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5 Ways of Dealing With Anti-Catholic Bigotry, According to Al Smith

It’s usually offered in indirect but aggressive ways. Behind a lot of American political arguments is the belief that Catholics don’t belong in the political world — unless we’re willing to set our faith aside. 

It comes out in claims like calling the commitment to the unborn child’s right to life “a Catholic issue.” We’re said to be imposing our values. We point out that we’re arguing on purely secular grounds, and an atheist should say what we’re saying. No matter how many times we do that, someone tries to push us out of the discussion by saying we’re dragging religion into it. 

It comes out in demands that Catholic institutions (and other Christian groups) provide contraceptives to their employees. They claim that’s standard medical care and won’t listen to any argument that it isn’t. Again we’re accused of imposing our values, this time in order to discriminate against women. We appeal to the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom. They claim that the amendment doesn’t protect any action they disagree with.

The Democratic Party’s platform includes the “contraceptive mandate” as an “essential.” The party declares it “will protect the rights of all people to make personal health care decisions, and will reject the Trump Administration’s use of broad exemptions to allow medical providers, employers, and others to discriminate.”

There we see two of the rhetorical tricks secularists pull. The first declares that anything the secular world disagrees with must be religious and therefore invalid. We appeal to universal truths; they howl that we’re forcing our religion on other people. The second rhetorical trick declares that the Constitution only protects the “freedom to worship.” It doesn’t protect believers’ freedom to live out their faith in the world.

We can get some help from a man who dealt with Protestant bigotry almost 100 years ago. New York Gov. Al Smith was running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. The first Catholic to run for president for a major party, he lost in part because so many Americans still felt such prejudice against Catholics. The Republican and Protestant Herbert Hoover won.

The Atlantic ran an “open letter” to Smith in its April 1927 issue. The writer, Charles C. Marshall, was a lawyer and Episcopalian, and his open letter being published in The Atlantic carried the authority of the WASP establishment. 

Marshall’s entire letter implies that the Church poses a special problem for political life. It doesn’t fit in. He addresses Smith in the article, insisting that the Catholic politician prove that it can fit in.

Read more at National Catholic Register

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