Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — Upheld the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and Embraced Mahatma Gandhi’s “Non-Violence Protest Strategy” to Advance Freedom

Lessons from from Rev. Martin Luther Jr. — the non-violence protest strategies and civil engagement with fellow stakeholders to strengthen the rule of law, preserve election integrity in America, and advance principled reforms.

International Leaders Summit
6 min readJan 18, 2021
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lays a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi. Photograph credit: Stanford University

January 18, 2021, Washington, DC — Today, we remember the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and how the civil rights leader built his peaceful protest movement on the foundational U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963. (Photograph credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Rev. Martin Luther King and the impact of the Judeo-Christian principles and America’s founding:

As a protestant pastor, Rev. King talked about his faith and how Judeo-Christian values and principles guided him as he led the civil rights movement. Rev. King often cited the story of the Exodus from sacred Hebrew texts:

To help his message better resonate with his followers, King also analogized their struggle for racial equality to the biblical story, Exodus. In this tale, the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, but through the leadership of Moses and the guidance of God, they ultimately gained freedom from their captors. Using the story of Exodus, King brought unity to the civil rights movement, gave his followers the confidence to continue fighting against racial injustice, and helped them understand the prolonged struggles they were to endure and the importance of non-violence in their campaign for freedom.

One of the ways in which Martin Luther King made the civil rights movement successful was by recalling the fundamental values of America’s founding. He often reminded his listeners about the goals that the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, and how Abraham Lincoln aided the realization of these goals by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. In his speech, “I Have a Dream,” King states that when the founding fathers “wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’” Here, King asserts that America’s foundational values impact every one of the nation’s citizens, and that race or ethnicity can never prevent an American from exercising the freedom guaranteed by the constitution. King reminded the victims of racial prejudice about their civil rights, inspiring them to fight against the injustice that they faced in their daily lives.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr pictured reading “The Gandhi Reader” with the Bible in the foreground. The Gandhi Reader is a collection of writings by and about Mahatma Gandhi, culled form 500 volumes, newspapers, and magazines. Photograph credit — Stanford University.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Influence and the “non-violent” protest strategy

Rev. King also embraced Mahatma Gandhi’s “non-violence and non-cooperation” strategy within America’s civil rights protest efforts. Rev. King wrote that “while the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

In 1959, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi, India, and stated that he was “more convinced than ever that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr stands next to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in his office in 1966.(Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries)
Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery on March 30, 1965. William Lovelace/Getty Images

The non-violence protest movement embraced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a reminder for today’s generation seeking principled changes and bold reforms in America including election integrity, and principled efforts to hold to account local, state and federal elected officials. Mahatma Gandhi’s “non-violence and non-cooperation” was most effective in advancing India’s principled quest for freedom and independence from the British Empire.

Last year’s violent protests which adveresely affected 48 of our of 50 U.S. states across the nation costing over $2 billion.

The New York Post writes:

“The potentially record-setting insured losses piled up as the demonstrations sometimes descended into looting, arson and vandalism in more than 20 states across the country from May 26 to June 8 [2020], according to the Insurance Information Institute.”

Moreover, the January 6, 2021 assault on Capitol Building by domestic extremists and outside agitators from both the left and right brought swift condemnation for Republicans and Democrats.

The US Marshals report stated: “John Sullivan was charged in federal court after being arrested by the FBI. He was heard allegedly egging on protesters in video he provided, according to a federal criminal complaint. He remains in custody in Utah, on a U.S. Marshals hold request.”

According to published reports, FBI agent Matthew Foulger alleged in an affidavit that, rather than merely act as a journalist during the riots, Sullivan “knowingly and willfully joined a crowd of individuals who forcibly entered the U.S. Capitol and impeded, disrupted, and disturbed the orderly conduct of business by the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.”

Private property including residential and commercial properties, and state and federal buildings paid by US taxpayers must be safeguarded at all times. The U.S. Constitution protects life, liberty and private property. Those involved in violence and the destruction of private and taxpayer-funded public property must be held to account.

Election Integrity in America — New Polling Results:

According to polling firm Morning Consult, the findings presented on January 12, 2021 state:

“Just 27 percent of GOP voters now say they trust U.S. elections, down from 30 percent in late December and 72 percent in late September. Even fewer Republicans (22 percent) say the 2020 presidential election was free and fair.

Congressman Jim Jordan relayed his concerns on Capitol Hill:

"Eighty million Americans, 80 million of our fellow citizens,
Republicans and Democrats, have doubts about this election; and 60
million people, 60 million Americans think it was stolen." - Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH)

In the 2020 presidential election, exit polls showed that “19% of Black men voted for President Trump, as did 9% of Black women.”

As Americans reflect on the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it will be wise to remember his strategies of non-violent protests and engaging citizens and elected officials.

King stands behind President Johnson as he signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office (WHPO)