Recently, when the Supreme Court declined to strike down as unconstitutional a federal law prohibiting the killing of partially delivered babies by the grisly practice formally known as "dilation and extraction abortion," a reptilian creature known to Americans of an earlier time as Blanshardism--a creature thought by many to be long and mercifully extinct--crawled out from under a rock.
Paul Blanshard was the Ian Paisley of American anti-Catholicism in the middle third of the twentieth century. He was the author of the vile anti-Catholic tract titled American Freedom and Catholic Power and general counsel to the organization then known as "Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State."
The neo-Blanshardite reaction to the Supreme Court's partial-birth abortion ruling was led by former University of Chicago Provost Geoff Stone, who in condemning the decision as upholding what he ludicrously regarded as a an imposition of the Catholic religion pointedly called attention to the fact that the five justices forming the majority are members of the Catholic Church, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, which published a despicable cartoon depicting the five wearing the mitres of Catholic bishops.
Had the partial-birth abortion decision come out the other way, turning on the votes of the two Jewish justices, and had a prominent conservative professor have made an issue of their religion and a conservative newspaper published a cartoon depicting them wearing yarmulkes and prayer shawls, there would have been howls of outrage and loud denunciations of the bigotry on display. People across the spectrum of religious and political belief, including those who oppose partial birth abortion, would have condemned the cartoon and demanded apologies. And they would have been right. Religious prejudice should be unacceptable in American public life. Period.
But while the writings of Professor Stone and the cartoon in the Philadelphia newspaper drew a certain amount of criticism and generated discussion on some blogs, the neo-Blanshardites were not reprimanded or even criticized by prominent liberal civil rights leaders or by leading liberal civil rights and civil liberties organizations. Perhaps I missed something, but I heard no denunciations from those secular or religious liberals who have long proclaimed themselves mortal enemies of all forms of prejudice, and from whom therefore one would have expected a firm condemnation of bigotry even when manifested in support of a cause they like.
Some Catholics spoke up in defense of themselves and their Church, but few prominent non-Catholics came to the aid of their Catholic fellow citizens. It was almost as if we were back in the 1940s and 50s, when it was socially acceptable to regard Catholics who were true to their faith as potentially disloyal to the principles of American freedom and democracy, and therefore unfit to be trusted with high political or judicial office.
Yet it is not quite true that no non-Catholics spoke out against the new Blanshardism. There are heroes in this story. The heroes, however, are not to be found among the mainstream civil rights and civil liberties groups. No condemnations of the rank anti-Catholicism on display were forthcoming from the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Nor was anything heard from the mainline Protestant denominations that are regarded by many Catholic liberals as Catholicism's true friends and ecumenical conversation partners. Leaders of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, etc. were silent. The prejudice antennae of these leaders--ordinarily so sensitive--seems to shut down when the victims of prejudice are Catholics.
Who were the heroes, then? Who rushed to the defense of Catholics when they and their Church were under siege from the neo-Blanshardites? It was the leaders of the Evangelical movement. And they came with a powerful and, indeed, remarkable statement. Led by Chuck Colson, many of the most influential leaders of contemporary Evangelicalism joined together to condemn anti-Catholicism. And they did not stop there. They went on to acknowledge and express remorse for the involvement of American Evangelicals in anti-Catholic prejudice in the past.
After condemning Stone's remarks and the Inquirer's cartoon, Mr. Colson, joined by Frank S. Page, president of Southern Baptist Convention, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, and many more leading Evangelicals, said:
We believe it is our particular duty to condemn the bigotry we are now witnessing in view of the history of anti-Catholicism in our nation. It is a stain on the Protestant Christian conscience that at one time many of our people accepted the vile teachings of Paul Blanshard in his book American Freedom and Catholic Power, and supported the anti-Catholic agenda of the group founded by Blanshard and others that now styles itself Americans United for Separation of Church and State (formerly known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State).
They then invoked the example of Pope John Paul II:
Just as Pope John Paul II acknowledged past injustices committed by Catholics, or committed in the name of Catholicism, against Protestants, Jews, and others and pledged to work against any revival of these injustices, we acknowledge past Protestant prejudices against Catholics and pledge to fight against the anti-Catholic bigotry we are now witnessing. Our Catholic brothers and sisters will not have to wait to hear our voices forcefully raised against the bigotry now directed against them.
This is a profound statement of solidarity and support, and Catholics should lose no time in thanking their Evangelical brothers and sisters for it. Speaking as a Catholic myself, I will say this: If there was ever any doubt about who are our true friends and ecumenical partners, this doubt has been erased. We need ask and answer but two questions: Who spoke? Who remained silent?
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.