Let me start by saying that I have enormous respect for my WWWtW colleague Lydia McGrew, and I am usually in agreement with her on a variety of subjects. However, I have been thinking about her recent post on Muslim Immigration, and I have come to the conclusion that her approach is mistaken.
Although there are several issues I could raise, there is one in particular that has been gnawing at me. And that is the way that Catholic immigrants, including my maternal great grandmother, Vincenza Domino (d. 1979), were treated and thought of by Protestant America when they began arriving on these shores in the mid-19th century through the early 20th century.
( Anti-Catholic cartoon in Harper's Weekly, 30 September 1871)
In the 19th-century a form of strong church-state separationism surged to prominence in the U.S., largely as a Protestant reaction against the influx of immigrants from predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Some of these immigrant groups, which included Irish and Italians, set up their own private religious schools. Many non-Catholic Americans believed well into the 20th-century that Catholic schools indoctrinated their students with superstitions that were inconsistent with the principles of American democracy. Take, for example, these comments by the great Baptist church-state separationist, the Reverend Joseph Martin Dawson (whose entry I authored for the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties (Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2007)):
The Catholics, who are now [in 1948] claiming a near majority over all Protestants in the United States, would abolish our public school system which is our greatest single factor in national unity and would substitute their old-world, medieval parochial schools, with their alien culture. Or else they make it plain that they wish to install facilities for teach-ing their religion in the public schools…. Perhaps the burning issue has arisen soon enough to enable the friends of the native American culture to arrest the progress of the long-range plan of those who would supplant it. There can be no doubt about the Catholic plan. Having lost enormous prestige in Europe, the Church now looks to the United States as a suitable stage for the recovery of its lost influence. Here it would seek new ground, consolidate and expand, as compensation for its weakened position in bankrupt Europe, with the hope of transforming this continent, a Protestant country, into a Catholic citadel from which to exert a powerful rule. If this seems exaggerated and fanciful, the reader has only to open his eyes to what the Catholics are doing to achieve this end. (J. M. Dawson, Separate Church & State Now [New York: R. R. Smith, 1948], 96. )
Quite definitely we shall have to except Catholicism from the religious groups which contribute to democratic freedom, and so list it with secularism as a threat to national unity. (Ibid.)
The Roman hierarchy is poisoning the Government of our Nation…. The common belief of candidates is that to be elected President; or, except in the South, that to become Governor, Senator, or Representative, one must make a deal with the Roman Catholics. For a candidate to remain true to American principles in Catholic sections of the United States is to commit political suicide, at least in the belief of candidates. (J. M. Dawson, The Battle for America, p .11, as quoted in James M. Dunn, The Ethical Thought of Joseph Martin Dawson (Th.D. Dissertation, Southwester Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966), 235-36)
Dawson, of course, was not alone. Probably the worst offender in this regard was Paul Blanshard, whose 1949 bestseller, American Freedom and Catholic Power was the "Texas Taliban alert" of his time. (Read, for example, Fr. John Courtney Murray's "Paul Blanshard and the New Nativism").
Because of the fear that the proliferation of Catholic schools through the U. S. would dilute the principles of American democracy, federal and state legislation was proposed that would forbid the use of public resources for “sectarian” (re: Catholic) religious purposes. The most ambitious attempt in the 19th-century to put this understanding into law was a proposed constitutional amendment by Representative James Blaine (R-ME). It read:
No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State, for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, nor shall any money so raised, or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations. (Congressional Record, 44th Congress, 1st session, 14 December, 1875
Called the Blaine Amendment, it never became part of the Constitution. However, 37 states have passed Blaine-type statutes or constitutional amendments that still remain on the books. (For example, the Constitution of Texas states: “No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.” Texas Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 7)
Ironically, by arguing that there was a need for these amendments, supporters of the Blaine Amendment and its progeny implicitly conceded that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, by itself, does not prohibit the use of public resources for religious purposes. Of course, this would mean that separationist jurisprudence, that relies on a Blaine-type understanding of church and state, is likely not a proper reading of the First Amendment. This does not mean, of course, that some modest form of separationism, something like the traditional anti-establishment position of the Danbury Baptists (the group to which President Thomas Jefferson wrote his famous letter), is not correct (as I believe is in fact the case). Rather, what it means is that a doctrine borne of anti-Catholic animus and a desire to declare an American Protestant hegemony as the established understanding of public faith is hardly the “neutral” and “separationist” creed its proponents have led us to believe. Ironically, the underlying principles of this type of separationism were picked up in the 20th century by secularists hostile to all religion in public life who then applied these principles to the cherished practices of 19th century anti-Catholic Protestant separationists: school-led prayer and Bible-reading in public schools.
What I am afraid may be happening now with the discussion over Muslim immigration on this blog and elsewhere is that some Americans--rightly concerned about how some Muslims practice their faith--may be painting with the same broad brush that was applied by Dawson, Blanshard, and others to my Catholic ancestors. This is not to say that the U. S. should abandon all standards by which it assesses potential immigrants. Rather, it means that such assessments should be conducted with an eye toward particular sorts of practices, regardless of religious affiliation, that are not conducive to American citizenship. For example, it would seem to me perfectly reasonable for the U. S. to legitimately reject for citizenship unambiguously committed Klansmen, Stalinists, jihadists, supporters of racial apartheid, Iranian revolution theocrats, "Christian" reconstructionists, or former KGB agents pining to get back into action. But to exclude all Muslims because some engage in abhorrent practices makes about as much sense as excluding all Christians because a tiny minority are, unfortunately, followers of the theonomist and Holocaust-denier, Rousas John Rushdoony