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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

January 23, 2008

The Last Tolerated Form of Prejudice?

Catholic high school students are well aware of issues surrounding prejudice, often associated with racism. This week’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is an occasion that allows for sensitivity to this issue.

For the most part Catholics living since the 1950s have not faced the outright prejudice for being Catholic that their ancestors who immigrated to the United States once experienced.

Nothing like the early twentieth century when anti-Catholic legislation was introduced to limit the increasing numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The Ku Klux Klan was a nativist group not only opposed to African Americans, but also to Catholics and Jews. Bigotry helped defeat the first Catholic candidate for president, Al Smith in 1920. Rumors were circulated that if Smith won the Pope would take up residence in the White House and Protestants would lose their citizenship. A recently published book on Church history, This Is Our Church, tells some of this story.

However, today, prejudice against Catholics has been called “the last tolerated form of prejudice.” Consider what happened a couple of weeks ago at a roast of two ESPN radio personalities, Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg. One of their colleagues, Dana Jacobson, came to the podium and made disparaging remarks not only about Golic’s alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, but also about Jesus himself.

Remember, this event happened nearly two weeks ago. It is only now being told in the mainstream media. You may ask your teens to compare how this type of reporting of the incident compares to those when members of particular races or other religions were treated in this fashion.

Philip Jenkins, author of The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice claims that “The American media, usually painstaking in their efforts to offend members of no racial, religious or gender category, consistently make one major exception-the Roman Catholic Church.”

What do your students think? Is prejudice against Catholics really the last tolerated form of prejudice in the United States? Reserve some class time to explore this issue.

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