The editorial cartoon appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the wake of the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. It featured the nine justices sitting on the bench. The five Catholic justices who voted to uphold the ban are depicted wearing bishops’ mitres. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish, is staring at them with a horrified look. So are the three Protestant justices.
The cartoon’s message was clear: The Catholics had voted, not to uphold the law, but to impose their personal religious views. It’s a graphic example of anti-Catholic bigotry.
The Philadelphia Inquirer was hardly alone. Now, it’s not surprising when irresponsible commentators like Rosie O’Donnell make bigoted remarks about Catholics—as she did. Well, at least she won’t be on ABC for a while. But it is shocking when more respectable observers do so.
For instance, Geoffrey Stone, former dean of the University of Chicago law school, writes that “all five justices in the majority in [this case] are Catholic. The four justices who either are Protestant or Jewish all voted in accord with settled precedent”—note that. And then he adds: “The five justices in the majority [that is, the Catholics] . . . failed to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality.”
If you uphold a law approved by both parties in Congress and supported by most Americans, you are imposing your morality. But if you vote against the ban, you have nobly kept your religious views from interfering with your job. The ugly implication here is obvious: that it is not possible for faithful Catholic judges to carry out their responsibility to interpret and uphold the law.
Imagine the reaction if a cartoonist had suggested this of other religious groups—if they had portrayed justices wearing yarmulkes or holding the Koran. Joseph Cella, head of a Catholic pro-life group, is right in saying that the Philadelphia Inquirer cartoon is “venomous, terribly misleading, and blatantly anti-Catholic.”
Protestants have a special duty to condemn anti-Catholic bigotry. Shamefully, at one time many Protestants accepted the vile teachings of Paul Blanchard, author of American Freedom and Catholic Power. They supported the anti-Catholic agenda of the group for which he was general counsel: Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Our Catholic brethren should not have to wait to hear our voices forcefully raised against the bigotry now directed against them.
That’s why I am circulating with some other Christian leaders a statement calling on Protestants to join us in condemning this bigotry.
We also call on groups that present themselves as the enemies of prejudice to join us as well. And in particular, we invite Americans United to do so. Let us know once and for all: Are they selective opponents of prejudice? Do they regard anti-Catholicism as an acceptable form of bigotry?
It is appropriate to demand an apology when people in public life use their position to engage in bigotry—just as we did with Don Imus. Subscribers to the Inquirer ought to drop their subscriptions, or boycott the products of their advertisers, until an apology is forthcoming.
All forms of bigotry are vile and must be exposed for what they are: attacks on the very character of a civil society. Apologies are called for.
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