There has always been a strain of anti-Catholicism in our country. For example, Catholics were attacked (verbally, quasi-legally and even violently) through the mid-1800s by public leaders and small groups. The U.S., it was said, is for natives, not for papist immigrants. During the 1850s an entire political party, The Know Nothings, ran on this anti-Catholic platform; supported by vile religious slurs in newspapers, scandalous cartoons and discrimination signs in places of employment and housing. In the 1920s another nationwide group formed to oppose Catholicism. It had strong chapters in the Midwest (especially in Indiana) and the West. Its name was Ku Klux Klan. In the 1950s the violence-prone KKK became associated with anti-black sentiment in the South.
|Ku Klux Klan symbol|
Catholics gained acceptance during World War II and thereafter through their contributions to our country’s struggle against Nazi ideology (a movement that wanted a so-called pure race).
Catholics were respected after the War because of their stance against communist ideology (another movement with exclusionary tendencies). The 1960 election of President John Kennedy (1917-1963) symbolized acceptance for Catholics. Although U.S. Catholics now surpass other Christian denominations in education attainment and average income, it is a mistake to think our country is free from Catholic-haters.
Given our history in this beautiful country, Catholic citizens should be on the front lines in protest against anyone who says an entire religious group is unwelcome on our shores.
A nation by definition has a responsibility to secure its borders. At the same time our nation is founded on the premise that a fresh start begins here. Further, the U.S. is proud of its history as a “beacon on a hill” and proud of its national poem: “…from her beacon hand glows world-wide welcome.” The U.S. regularly tells other nations to practice pluralism. The U.S. on occasion even scolds intolerant nations. And, as during World War II, the U.S. is sometimes willing to take up arms against a nation that persecutes an entire group of people because of their religion or ethnicity.
It is proper and necessary for the U.S. to turn away some foreign individuals from our harbors, or our airports, or our Canadian and Mexican borders. An individual should normally not enjoy our land of liberty if they do not qualify, particularly if they pose a threat to national security. To turn away an entire ethnic or religious group, however, violates the very freedom our country espouses.
Donald Trump, the showman from Queens, New York, belongs to a comparatively small Christian denomination. Its members—like Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Baptists and others—should be on guard against nativist exclusionary rhetoric. For once notions of a pure group or impure group gain credence, any group could be next. It was once Jews, Catholics before that, Muslims now. The religious group to which Trump belongs, should his prejudice spread further, might soon hear: “You’re fired. Get outta here.”
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.