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On Raising the Religious Issue

John Courtney Murray, S. J.

The brutal fact becomes increasingly clear. The "oldest American prejudice," as anti-Catholicism has rightly been called, is as poisonously alive today as it was in 1928, or in the Eighteen Nineties or even in the Eighteen Forties. Its source is the same, political and religious ignorance. Its result is the same, a disastrous confusion of politics and religion.

Only one difference is discernible. Now the ancient "anti-Papist" text is embellished by a new set of footnotes. This is the single concession to the current climate, which has altered in only one respect. Today even religious prejudice feels the need somehow to contrive for itself the semblance of rationality. The footnotes, of course, prove none of the time-worn anti-Catholic charges in the text; they merely serve to cloak the prejudice that long ago wrote the text.

Can the religious issue be outlawed from the campaign? Obviously not. It is itself an outlaw thing that defies the laws of rational politics.

Will the oldest American prejudice be dissipated during the campaign? Again, obviously not. It may well decide the issue.

My chief hope is that old Catholic angers will not rise, as the ancient anti-Catholic text, with its new footnotes, is endlessly recited.

Now, if ever, is the time for the tradition of reason, which is the Catholic tradition, to assert itself. Only in its assertion is there hope for some health in American politics.