On Feb. 2, 2000, George W. Bush, as a candidate for president, spoke at the Bob Jones University during the school's chapel hour. Bush gave a standard stump speech making no specific reference to the university. His political opponents quickly noted his non-mention of the university's ban on interracial dating and for not stating his opposition to the university's anti-Catholic policies.
On Feb. 26, Bush issued a formal letter of apology to the late Cardinal John O'Connor of New York for failing to denounce Bob Jones University's history of anti-Catholic statements. At a news conference following the letter's release, Bush said, "I make no excuses. I had an opportunity and I missed it. I regret that.... I wish I had gotten up then and seized the moment to set a tone, a tone that I had set in Texas, a positive and inclusive tone."
Last week, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards announced that he has hired Amanda Marcotte as his campaign blogmaster and Melissa McEwan as the Netroots coordinator. Marcotte has been responsible for posting some of the most violently anti-Catholic rantings on the Pandagon blogsite, including attacks upon Catholic teaching and Pope Benedict XVI. She has also crudely mocked the Virgin Mary. McEwan, on the AlterNet Web site, has also included her own anti-Catholic rantings, including attacks upon Pope Benedict and labeling people of Christian faith as "Christofacist" because of their support for traditional marriage and the protection of the unborn.
Their obscenity-laced commentaries go far beyond honest disagreement with the church or dissent from certain Catholic teachings. These are insulting attacks mocking core religious beliefs. If Marcotte and McEwan had said similar things about Judaism or Islam or Buddhism, would the response have been so muted?
William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights clearly identified the issue for what it was, an anti-Catholic attack, and immediately issued a statement calling for the Edwards campaign to fire both workers. National groups like the Blue Dog Democrats, Family Research Council, Fidelis and the National Democratic Ethnic Leadership Council have joined the Catholic League in expressing outrage at the anti-Catholic attacks and the Edwards' campaign's lack of concern.
Yet the media elites, political pundits and liberal activists who so often denounce bigotry and intolerance against African-Americans, homosexuals, Muslims and women have been decidedly silent during this controversy. While any right thinking person would immediately condemn bigoted and hateful statements against any minority or religious group, when that group is the Catholic Church, a response seems not to be merited. Why is it that Catholic-bashing is seen as fashionable and acceptable?
The Edwards' campaign's alliance with anti-Catholic bigots is merely the latest manifestation of the old nativist anti-Catholic prejudice that has always been part of American culture: That Catholicism is foreign, disloyal, anti-democratic, irrational, rigid and part of an oppressive institution in which the pope and priests tell people what to think and how to act.
Given the acceptability of anti-Catholic prejudice in American society, it is not surprising that John Edwards has said he will not fire the two. He seems to believe that the violently anti-Catholic attacks upon the church and all Catholics is at best excusable and at worst, acceptable.
The former senator from North Carolina is a passionate speaker who defends the rights of the poor and disenfranchised in our nation. He has been a consistent and formidable critic of President Bush. However, we believe that he might learn a lesson from George Bush, the candidate, and his appearance at the Bob Jones University. Bigotry and prejudice have no place in our society and certainly have no place on the campaign trial.
It is often said that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in America. John Edwards is proving this again.
(This editorial originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)