The next time you’re in Boston, make a point of visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
There you’ll see an exhibit of anti-Catholic bigotry — a campaign pamphlet that was circulated through West Virginia in the 1960 election. It screams: “Wake up Protestant!”
Blinded by prejudice, many Americans at the time feared that a Catholic president would take his orders from Rome. But ours is a great country that does not bow to bigots. Kennedy went on to win the West Virginia primary and be elected president.
Americans might stumble at first and fail to confront intolerance. But, eventually, we get it right.
Now we have a couple more chances.
Steve Bannon — himself Catholic — recently attacked the Catholic Church on immigration. The institution is “terrible” on the issue, Bannon told Charlie Rose of CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
The former White House senior adviser attributed the Church’s embrace of immigrants and its condemnation of punitive measures targeting them to sinister motives.
“Unable to really come to grips with the problems in the Church, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches,” Bannon said.
Incredibly, he kept digging.
“I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine,” Bannon said. “This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And, in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.”
Days earlier, there was also a wince-inducing Senate confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Democrats grilled Barrett, but not over qualifications or legal philosophy.
Barrett was attacked for — and there is no polite way to say this — being Catholic. You see, Barrett teaches at Norte Dame. She has also written about the role of religion in public life and given academic lectures to Christian legal groups.
Democrats tried to argue that Barrett’s Catholic faith would prevent her from being fair. In short, they were saying that Barrett would be Catholic first and a judge second.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California all but accused Barrett of being possessed by the Holy Spirit.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein scolded the nominee. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues for which large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”
Why doesn’t Feinstein just say what she really thinks? Like this: “I’m worried that your religion blinds you.”
One of Feinstein’s “big issues” is a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, which is legally protected by the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The senator appears worried that putting too many Catholics on the bench would turn back the clock on reproductive rights.
Sure. Because there aren’t scores of Democratic elected officials who — while Catholic — remain pro-choice.
One such lawmaker is Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who criticized Barrett for using the term “orthodox Catholic.” Durbin thinks that phrase is an insult to those who do not think a certain way.
“Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Durbin demanded to know of Barrett.
What does that question have to do with the law or the Constitution? Maybe Durbin should glance at our country’s founding document, especially the amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion. It’s not hard to find. It’s the first one.
What these senators exhibited was a textbook example of prejudice against Catholics. It’s hard to imagine — in 2017 — any other group being excluded from the calling of public service on such flimsy grounds. No one would stand for it.
Ironically, Democrats were saying about a conservative judicial nominee what Republicans said in 1960 about John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee for president.
And with their attack on Barrett, Democrats also echoed what President Trump said about U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel. During the campaign, Trump accused Curiel of not being able to fairly adjudicate a lawsuit against Trump University because the U.S.-born judge is “Mexican.”
Trump was roundly, and rightfully, excoriated for that idiotic comment. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, called the remark a clear example of “racism.”
So where are the Democrats stepping forward to criticize a couple of their own for their wildly inappropriate comments about a Catholic nominee for the federal bench? And why aren’t any Republicans coming out to criticize Bannon for misrepresenting the motives of the Catholic Church on immigration, as if no one has ever read Scripture?
If history teaches us anything, it’s that ignoring bigotry — against any group — only produces more of it.
Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a columnist for the Daily Beast, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” and the host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”