As the new semester came into full swing last week, the once-dormant campus awoke to a massive influx of life. Once-available parking lots are now full by the early morning, Wilson Commons’ Starbucks is open late and posters for student events decorate the walls and bulletin boards all over campus.

One morning last week, I took a stroll over to the bookstore to purchase a notebook. It was a truly lovely day; the sun shone brightly and provided warmth, though not overbearingly.

As I approached the entrance, I saw a poster on the wall that ignited in me a deep and utter disgust. Even though the modern college campus is not exactly the pinnacle of traditional Western morality, this was just over the top. I don’t even remember what event was being advertised. What I do remember is the picture: a Catholic nun, in full black and white habit, smoking out of a crack pipe! What sort of society do we live in that would entertain such immoral, insensitive bigotry?

As I sat back and pondered that question in the time since the incident, something dawned on me. This incident of moral degradation of Catholic beliefs and symbols is nothing new.

Since the inception of the American nation, we Catholics have been persecuted for our beliefs, our worship and our allegiance to “Pope-ish” interests. Indeed, part of the American revolutionaries’ disdain for George III grew out of his “crypto-papism,” evidenced by emancipating the Catholic French Canadians via the Quebec Act. Irish and German Catholics were segregated into separate regiments during the Civil War, as they were not seen as equal to their Protestant countrymen.

So deep-rooted was America’s suspicion of Catholics that John F. Kennedy had to assure the nation in 1960 that he did indeed put America and American interests first. It is no wonder that the great (non-Catholic) historian, Arthur Schlesinger Sr., once remarked that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in America.

Though this anti-Catholic prejudice is nothing new, its persistence into the 21st century is especially curious. In an age of self-purported ecumenism and sensitivity to alternative views and lifestyles, why is it that anti-Catholicism is still acceptable?

When a Danish cartoonist drew a comic of Muhammad with a bomb on his head, the Muslim world screamed out in protests and violence. Media outlets, both print and television, refused to reproduce this “morally offensive” cartoon, as it was clearly prejudiced against the Muslim community. Similarly, when famed international relations scholars John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt wrote an article criticizing the United States’ unwavering support of Israel in foreign policy, the Anti-Defamation League and a host of Jewish organizations attacked them as being anti-Semites.

But what happens when Catholics are the butt of the joke? What happens when the female religious, who give up a career, family and personal gain to serve God alone, are shown smoking crack? Or what about when Spencer Gifts sells the “happy priest” and “pregnant nun” costumes for Halloween? I sure don’t see any costumes defaming Muslims, Jews or any other religion for that matter.

In short, why is it that when Catholics are insulted, we must take it as a joke protected by “free speech,” but when other religions are mocked, all of a sudden the world must draw to a halt and apologize for cultural insensitivity?

The answer to these questions is not immediately obvious. Part of it lies surely in the response of the Catholic community – or rather, the lack of response. The Muslims have CAIR; the Jews have the ADL. For Catholics, there is no unified or universally-accepted organization that is designed to defend Catholics from insult and harm and can mobilize the support of thousands at a moment’s notice.

The other part of the answer is numbness. Catholics in this country have been derided, defiled and degraded for so long that most are just desensitized to the frequent and vicious bigotry.

While I am sure that anti-Catholicism won’t be going away soon, I will say that the powder keg is very near eruption. Catholics have been insulted for so long that most of us are at wits end. For all those who insist on continuing to insult the Catholic Church, Her institutions and Her culture, I admonish you to not play with fire, for you may get burned. With the Catholic population on the rise and the resurgence of activist Catholicism, those who target Catholicism with insults and bigotry will no longer go unchecked.

As we start this new academic year, I ask all of those in our community who have insisted on insulting the Catholic Church to cease and desist. Your actions are offensive and are not “free” speech – they are “hate” speech. Take down your insulting posters and let us all be a little bit more respectful of one another.

Ramey is a graduate student.



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