Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) said that no other person in Congress "has a stronger belief in minority rights" than himself. According to Yahoo! News, that contention would seem to be at odds with his past statements about states rights versus civil rights and his ties to neo-Confederate groups.

The freshman senator has been in Iowa over the last week, meeting with religious groups ahead of his presumptive bid for the presidency in 2016. Paul, son of erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), told Yahoo! that he will continue his efforts to reach out to African-American and Hispanic voters. He conceded, however, that recent revelations about a key aide involved with a far-right neo-Confederate group could dull the impact of his message of inclusion.

“I’m not easily dissuaded, so it’s not something that makes me shrink away, it makes me come out even stronger to say that I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do,” Paul told Yahoo News. “Because my conception of justice is that there have been many times in our history when we have done things unfairly to Japanese Americans, to black Americans. I still think that the justice system does not treat African-Americans fairly in regard to non-violent drug crime, with regard to felonies being on your record.”

Back in 2010, however, shortly after Paul won the Kentucky primary for U.S. Senate, he clearly stated in an appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show" that he does not support the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul said that he believed business owners should be able to decide whether or not their restaurants should serve African-Americans, for example, and that the free market would sort things out.

"What about freedom of speech?" Paul asked. "Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”

As far as whether restaurants should be segregated, then-candidate Paul said, "Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion.”

When the remarks touched off a firestorm, Paul attempted to back away from them.

However, his bona fides as a minority rights crusader could also be called into question by the fact that up until three days ago, he numbered among his closest allies and campaign aides one Jack Hunter, who has been outed as a secessionist neo-Confederate.

Hunter, who announced that he was leaving the Paul staff on Sunday to pursue a career as a right-wing pundit, is a former South Carolina AM-radio conservative commentator who went by the name "The Southern Avenger." In his "Avenger" persona, Hunter would wear a Confederate flag mask and declaim that the southern states should break away from the rest of the U.S. again. He was notoriously racist, regularly extolling the virtues of the white race and railing against the immigration of Latino people into this country.

Hunter is a former chairman of The League of the South, an SPLC-certified hate group that believes the southern states should leave the union and establish a Christian theocratic state dominated by "Anglo-Celtic" (i.e., white) leaders who would rule over an underclass of African-Americans, Hispanics and other nonwhites.

Paul defended Hunter earlier this month, telling the Washington Free Beacon, "If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately. If I thought he would treat anybody on the color of their skin different than others, I’d fire him immediately.”

As far as Hunter's embrace of the Confederate flag, Paul excused it as a youthful indiscretion.

“It was a shock radio job,” Paul said. “He was doing wet T-shirt contests. But can a guy not have a youth and stuff? People try to say I smoked pot one time, and I wasn’t fit for office.”

Among the members of Congress who are currently serving alongside Paul is Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the original Freedom Riders. Lewis was badly beaten on "Bloody Sunday," the notorious confrontation between peaceful demonstrators and the Alabama highway patrol on a bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1964.