“Dr. King was a strong and clear voice for freedom,” declared President George W. Bush during a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day commemoration. His nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft, proudly proclaimed during Senate testimony that, “By executive order, I made Missouri one of the first states to recognize Martin Luther King Day.” These are strange words from self-described conservatives, even of the “compassionate” stripe.

Although the Supreme Court nullified congressional anti-discrimination measures in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the counter-constitutional phenomenon recrudesced in Titles II and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The less-than-scrupulous Warren Court validated Title II through the Commerce Clause in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung. A nefarious nexus connects these provisions to such contemporary statutes as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would criminalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. They form a regulatory lattice that restricts federalism and proprietary discretion.

If one individual exemplifies the anti-discrimination apparatus, it is Martin Luther King, Jr. He extolled the student sit-ins that confused trespassing with the advance of justice and spearheaded the drive for Tides II and VII. King’s anti-proprietary activism reached full bloom in the social-democratic rhetoric of his last years. His 1967 presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference contained such nonsense as: “[T]he kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both.”

In 1953, Russell Kirk argued that the “Persuasion that freedom and property are inseparably connected” is one of the six canons of conservative thought—an affirmation that has fallen on hard times, given the philo-King sentiments of GOP leaders. (A video prologue to Bush’s acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican Convention featured King.) An American right that countenances the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and related legislation is at best philosophically incoherent. At worst, it becomes complicit with leftist projects under the banner of “bipartisanship.” The Ciceronian malum turpe that Paul Gottfried attributed to the American right in these pages (“Martin Luther King, Jr., as Conservative Hero,” April 1997) has only intensified.

There is a scene in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart in which William Wallace and his men are honored after defeating massive English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. After the ceremony, bickering ensues over tides claimed by a Scottish nobleman. Wallace and his men begin to walk out. When asked by a nobleman what he intends to do next, Wallace replies that he plans to invade England. The nobleman laughs and exclaims, “Invade? It is impossible!” Wallace retorts, “Why? Why is that impossible? You’re so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshanks’ table that you’ve missed your God-given right to something better,” His words apply all too well to those conservatives who think their freedom lost unless they make obeisance to the party of His Majesty Lincoln—and now, the Rev. Dr. King.