When Bill Maher announced earlier this year that he would undertake campaigns to oust the country’s worst congressmembers, I wanted to nominate my own, Michael Grimm, the Republican who represents Staten Island and a small chunk of Brooklyn. Grimm’s politics are antithetical to my own, sure, but that’s not why I want him out of office: he’s an especially bad man, and not just for the ongoing corruption scandals that have made him the subject of multiple investigations. When he threatened to throw a NY1 reporter off a balcony in January, he eventually apologized, and made it, like, cute: “My Italian mother is gonna be yelling at me saying, ‘You weren’t raised that way,’ and she’s right,” he said at a press conference. But Grimm had a history of threatening reporters and anyone else who disagreed with or annoyed him (like the time he was an FBI agent and he brandished his gun at a nightclub, lined up the patrons, and told all the white people they could leave); this was just the first time he got caught on tape. Grimm is a bully—a thug in a suit.
But there’s at least one area in which this hothead sees himself as the victim: his religion. Maher, no thanks to me, did in fact make Grimm one of the congressional representatives he will target this election season, which Grimm is using to fundraise. “Bill Maher is hardly the spokesman for traditional American values, in fact – he’s the opposite,” Grimm wrote in a letter to supporters. (Sick burn!) “What Maher doesn’t understand is that the voters in Staten Island and Brooklyn do not agree with his anti-Catholic, leftist propaganda.” In fact, most of the letter (when not going off on deranged tangents about how liberals despise Grimm because he’s a combat veteran) quotes Maher’s views on religion, such as, “We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion.”
And, of course, anyone who’s an outspoken critic of religious belief has, more than once, been critical of Catholicism in particular. The Catholic League has on its website a lengthy list of quotes by Maher going back to 1998 that it deems anti-Catholic. Most of them are cheap jokes about pedophile priests, but then there’s this one:
March 2, 2000, “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” [ABC], on anti-Catholicism in the wake of George W. Bush speaking at Bob Jones University: “Isn’t it amazing that this is an issue in this election? When was the last time you ever heard of a Catholic being bashed? … But when was the last time someone called you a Papist? I mean really, is this really going on nowadays?”
Doubting that anti-Catholic prejudice is a serious issue is considered anti-Catholic? Huh? Hey, you ever wonder what the Catholic League is? I did a few weeks ago, after it started a boycott against Guinness for… not participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The group “defends the right of Catholics—lay and clergy alike—to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination,” according to its website. “Motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, the Catholic League works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened.”
Which sounds like the sort of thing a 21st-century progressive could get behind (or at least be apathetic toward as opposed to opposed to)—that it’s not about defending religion, but defending fundamental constitutional rights of free expression! But then… what does a beer company’s decision not to sponsor a parade in New York City have to do with the right of Catholics to live free of discrimination?
The parade is quintessentially Catholic, beginning with a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is this Catholic element that angers those who are engaged in a bullying campaign against the St. Patrick’s Day parades. The bullies also have nothing but contempt for the constitutional rights of Irish Catholics. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 9-0 decision that the First Amendment guarantees the right of private parade organizers to determine its own rules for marching. It is this liberty that the makers of Guinness, Heineken, and Sam Adams want to squash.
This is a pretty amazing turn of logic. For the record, the First Amendment guarantees Americans that its government won’t infringe on its rights of free speech, religion, etc. So, sure, private organizations can host their discriminatory parades, and private corporations can refuse to support those events, and because the government isn’t involved (except for the granting of permits), neither is the constitution! What’s most impressive though is how the Catholics use the language of victimhood to alchemize themselves into victims.
“Today’s brand of anti-Catholicism is more virulent and more pervasive than ever before in American history,” the Catholic League’s website explains. “While it is true that Catholics as individuals have made progress in securing their rights, the degree of hostility exhibited against the Catholic Church is appalling. Quite simply, Catholic bashing has become a staple of American society.” Catholics have historically been the subject of prejudice in America, it’s true. But just as all groups in America have slouched toward greater freedom—toward progress!—so too have Catholics. No law bars Catholics from employment; no law bars them from marrying. The Vice President identifies as a Catholic, and that worried just about no one during both elections.
The Catholic League seems confused, not able to see the difference between bigoted prejudice and a disagreement over the fundamental rights of citizens in a progressive society. If these Catholics feel so put upon—Catholics whose church has literally inestimable worth, a sovereign nation, a figurehead respected as a major world leader, and 1.2 billion followers (including 75 million in the US, or almost one-fourth of the population, and more than 60 percent of New Yorkers)—perhaps they should align themselves with other marginalized and oppressed groups, like homosexuals or the victims of pedophilia and racism. But if their goal is to perpetuate their own bigotry and oppression in the guise of “freedom” and “divine law,” pretending to be the ones under threat while threatening others, then they shouldn’t be surprised that more and more people separate themselves from their causes—and their Church.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart