Senators Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin are being served many internets’ worth of well-deserved mockery and opprobrium after their brazenly unconstitutional questioning of Notre Dame professor and judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett went viral yesterday. The mother of seven is a little too faithful and a little too open to life for their taste, you see, and now the lovely and learnèd ladies of the Catholic internet have responded that – in Feinstein’s now-infamous words – “the dogma lives loudly within” them, too.
Judicial hearings are hardly the only area in which anti-Catholic bigotry dwells loudly within the left. Let’s examine more context to this disgusting, hardly anomalous incident.
Take public education.
Some of the biggest fans of compulsory public education, it turns out, have been Ku Klux Klan members.
For more than one hundred years, the Klan vigorously opposed letting Catholics govern their own education, giving them no way out of a system in which they were subjected to constant, pervasive spiritual abuse. From Massachusetts to Oregon and many places in between, nativist bigots relentlessly bullied this largely immigrant population. Klansmen and women first conspired to purge Catholic teachers from public schools, then pushed legislation to shut down “sectarian” schools, too. They dealt in paranoid slander and vile stereotypes, railing against the corrupting influence of the Romanists and the “dago on the Tiber.”
This was no rag-tag fringe (Robert Lockwood has a good summary here). As evidence of their impact, even after being smacked down once by the Supreme Court, compulsory attendance remains very much a thing.
As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The pernicious influence of the Klan lingers like a foul stench after the trash has been removed. It is evident in the recent Trinity Lutheran case, a direct result of the legal vestiges of anti-Catholic sentiment, as well as in the uniquely intense loathing on the left for Betsy DeVos and school choice advocacy.
As is the danger, the system created to advantage white Protestants has ended up biting modern Christians – however innocent they might be of the sins of their forbears – in the rear. Unlike Amy Barrett, Betsy DeVos isn’t even a Catholic. But as militant secularism increases, garden-variety believers are sufficient to raise the regime’s threat advisory level to “Severe.”
Earlier this year, Felicia Wong, president of the liberal Roosevelt Institute, accused DeVos of encouraging segregation – an argument that has likewise been wielded before against those subversive Papists, with religion standing in for race. “So much of the current movement in favor of school choice and religious education carries the stain of racial animosity, even in dog-whistle form,” she alleges, citing no specifics. One vague allusion to “bedrock” American values aside, Wong’s school choice timeline goes back to 1954. Before then, all is foggiest night. The much older nativist movement might as well not exist. (The system works beautifully, ladies and gents!)
“[DeVos] and her children have only ever attended Christian schools, and she and her husband have donated almost $8.6 million in recent years to Christian schooling organizations,” Wong opines. Everyone knows these Jesus nuts can’t be trusted. A popular meme assailing DeVos’s qualifications lists her philanthropy toward Christian schools as a demerit so self-explanatory to its target audience, again, no additional details are necessary.
For all her hand-wringing about dog whistles, Wong has borrowed a page straight from the playbook of the Klan during its 1920s heyday. Kathleen M. Blee, a PhD professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, explains in Understanding Racist Activism: Theory, Methods and Research, “Klanswomen were involved as ‘poison squads,’ organizing whispering campaigns to destroy the reputation of anti-Klan candidates by insinuating that they were Catholic or Jewish.” As whisper campaigns go, the one against DeVos is subtle as a deaf old man “whispering” in a crowded movie theater.
“Of course, many private and religious schools are excellent and inclusive places of learning,” Wong adds as an afterthought later in her piece. What a generous, totally convincing concession.
In the current climate of Nazi panic, which has metastasized post-Charlottesville to encompass everything from Thomas Jefferson to discarded banana peels to saints Joan of Arc and Junípero Serra, public schools are a test for honest members of the ‘Resistance’ left, some of whom probably subscribe to the view that prejudice is baked into an institution like the police force. What if you have this backwards? Will you admit that bigotry was fundamental to the formation of the American public school system? Will you renounce the ugly smear campaign against its critics and refuse to keep any student of any race or religion trapped in it? Will you stop treating our faith like it might give you plague?
I’m a public school graduate myself. By God’s grace, I have been able to attend good schools with mostly good teachers during a comparatively sane decade, and I didn’t require remediation in college. It’s entirely possible to attend a bad private school infected with the worst aspects of zeitgeist as well. Nevertheless, public schools aren’t designed to help one’s kids get to Heaven, or to make original thinkers of them. It’s a shame we’re still fighting the school choice battle, but fight it we all should.
Nicole Stacy is a cradle Catholic with the uncommon distinction of having been both a conservative activist and a professional classical musician. Her adventures have taken her from West Virginia to Connecticut to Washington D.C., where she now resides. Her Myers-Briggs type is INTP, and her blood type is espresso.
Follow Nicole on Twitter @Nicole_in_DC.