Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I once belonged to a group that met regularly. The place where we met raised its rates, and we could no longer afford to meet there without significantly raising dues. After a few weeks of calling around, a nearby Lutheran Church offered us a very good deal, and we moved our meetings there. It was wonderful. The church had a huge meeting room, with nice padded chairs and A/V equipment. The pastor bent over backwards for us. We were allowed to use the kitchen and to store our equipment in a storage room, and he even gave us our own key so we could use the place whenever it wasn't being used otherwise.

Two members refused to attend meetings there. The reason they gave was that the building was owned by a church, and they had to see a cross when they went into the building. They mounted a campaign, and when our agreement with the church was up, the membership voted overwhelmingly to move to a different (smaller, more expensive) place (with limited meeting hours). The reason put forth was that the club was excluding people unfairly by meeting in a building owned by a church.

Afterwards I spoke to a friend about it, a practicing Catholic friend. He told me how he felt we had to be inclusive, and of course it was wrong to meet in a church building. I asked him if he thought we should cater to bigotry like that. He said it wasn't bigotry because it was a religious thing. After all, they are entitled to their beliefs.

I had a similar moment with the recent anti-Catholic New York Times ad, and the recent anti-Catholic HuffPo article (I'm not linking to them here, I'm sure you can find them if you want to). Several friends have told me "oh, that's not anti-Catholic, that's just expressing how people feel" and "it's a religion - everybody's entitled to their religious belief." And everybody is entitled to their religious belief. But that still doesn't justify bigotry.

So what's the litmus test for bigotry? Mine is this. If you substitute "black" or "Jew" or "women" or "gay" or any other "protected" group for the group in question, would you say it is bigotry? Suppose the gentleman in my original example refused to go into a building owned by African Americans, specifically because it was owned by them, and because he had to see a picture of a black person when they went into the building. Would you call that bigotry? Suppose the NYT ad was encouraging gays to leave the gay lifestyle and become chaste? And suppose it did so by calling them all the kinds of things they referred to in the anti-Catholic ad. Do you think the NYT would even carry it, let alone survive the outcry that would result? Suppose the HuffPo article was talking about Jews, using all the stereotypes and attitudes of antisemites. Would it still be just a humorous article? Would you laugh?

How is it different when it's Catholics?


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