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Voting rights take center stage during MLK Day service at Ebenezer Baptist Church

Sen. Raphael Warnock spoke at his own church for MLK day, using the moment to discuss the John Lewis voting rights act.
Credit: AP
Rev. Raphael Warnock

ATLANTA — Atlanta was ground zero for the national celebration of the King holiday. Characteristically, the service at Ebenezer Baptist Church took on a political hue Monday.

In the service honoring what would have been the 93rd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., advocates asked: Why are we still trying to pass voting rights legislation?

"Everybody loves Dr. King. They just don’t always love what he represents," said Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia), who spoke at his own church at King’s historic Atlanta pulpit.  

Warnock has been central to the effort in congress to pass the John Lewis voting rights act – which would give the federal government power to expand voting procedures in Georgia and elsewhere.  

Republicans, who passed a restrictive voting law in Georgia last year, say it should be about voting security and oppose the federal effort.

In Arizona over the weekend, Dr. King's son Martin Luther King III appeared at a march designed to advance the bill – stalled in congress in part by Arizona’s new Democratic senator Krysten Sinema.

"It's tragic that nearly sixty years later, we’re still addressing this issue of voting. It should have been done," King III told KPNX TV.

But, in Georgia, republicans opposing the bill in congress introduced a resolution that says the federal bill “would obliterate the constitutional arrangement between the states and the government of the United States by usurping the constitutional power of states to manage, control, and administer state elections.”

Warnock told the Ebenezer congregation that’s an argument as old as Jim Crow.

"Governors and members of the Congress are channeling old 'states rights' arguments against voting rights now, the same way they did back then," Warnock told the audience.

Moments later, Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marti appeared at the service in a 43 second video praising Dr. King. They did not mention the Georgia voting bill Kemp signed last year.