Dear President Biden,
This is my second open letter in Newsweek since your election, trying to reach your ear as a fellow American Catholic.
Following your inauguration, my first letter urged you to stand in solidarity with the pro-life movement by sending a message to the annual March for Life in January. Such a magnanimous gesture, I explained, would have underlined the lofty rhetoric of your inaugural address, especially among those whom you singled out for reassurance: Americans who did not vote for you.
To understate, you declined that invitation to bipartisan statesmanship. Instead, your first initiatives in office included executive orders that will swell the number of abortions not only in the United States, but around the world. That longstanding discrepancy between your Church’s teaching, on the one hand, and your pro-abortion policies, on the other, might never give you pause. But one other new development should.
Mr. President, the election has emboldened your liberal and progressive allies to target for ostracism and punishment a new band of “deplorables”: your fellow Catholics.
Exhibit A: On January 24, 2021, Twitter locked the account of Catholic World Report, the online magazine of Ignatius Press. IP is the largest Catholic publishing house in the Anglosphere. It issues volumes by popes, cardinals, bishops and other men and women of the cloth, as well as lay authors (this one included). CWR is its news arm. Like other Ignatius Press publications, the site leans in toward history and scholarship. Its essay section recently featured one piece on the Gnostic heresy, another on the future of Western civilization and another comparing translations of St. Augustine’s Confessions.
Mr. President, the notion that cerebral CWR could run afoul of any “community standards” is prima facie risible. So how did this Catholic outlet find itself in the censorship crosshairs? Because of a news item reading as follows:
Biden plans to nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, a biological man identifying as a transgender woman who has served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary since 2017, to be HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. Levine is also a supporter of the contraceptive mandate.
Without further explanation, Twitter ruled that CWR had violated its rules “against hateful conduct.”
Days later, authorities relented and restored the account. But the message they sent was loud and menacing. If a cultural authority as established as Ignatius Press can be punished online for being Catholic, who will be spared?
This brings us to Exhibit B. Within days of your inauguration, an online mob tried to oust a professor from his post at a Catholic university.
That was David Upham, associate professor of politics at the University of Dallas—an institution renowned for its non-dissident Catholicism. Upham’s purported thought crime, like that of Catholic World Report, was commenting on the appointment of Dr. Levine, including a remark about “participat[ing] in these falsehoods” about transgenderism.
And so, in a pattern repeated ad nauseam these days, an online rabble led by a transgender alumnus organized a petition and ratcheted up the pressure to oust the professor. This time around, the woke pile-on failed. University of Dallas authorities refused to genuflect; instead, a joint letter from the provost and president affirmed that “The university embraces unreservedly the Church’s articulation of the moral law.”
Once again, however, the implied message was ominous. If a tenured professor at a flagship American Catholic university could be threatened in this way, who’s next?
This brings us to Exhibit C: social media censorship of religious traditionalists—especially your fellow Catholics—has accelerated during your brief time in office.
For instance, yet another Catholic publisher, TAN Books, has found numerous ads for its books suddenly removed from Facebook and Instagram. One was a volume about Mary called The Anti-Mary Exposed. Another was Motherhood Redeemed, a critical look at radical feminism. A third was a book on Karl Marx by a professor at Grove City College. A fourth was a primer about the Stations of the Cross, written for children. Ads from another small business, which sold prints of the Sacred Heart, were deemed unacceptable and removed.
Given that big tech will make examples even of small businesses, Exhibit D should come as no surprise: social media sporadically suppresses Catholic voices—especially influential pro-life ones.
So, for example, the Susan B. Anthony List—run by prominent Catholic Marjorie Dannenfelser, one of the leading pro-life voices in the United States—has been bedeviled online repeatedly. During the election, Facebook refused to allow the group’s ads to run in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Other instances of interference with the SBA List and other pro-life organizations abound—too many to recount here; see this link.
Mr. President, next consider Exhibit E: the stigmatizing of groups dedicated to Church teaching via spurious accusations of “hate.”
On December 9, 2020, NBC News published a story that uncritically accepted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designations of certain organizations as “hate groups.” These now include Christian organizations being singled out for their fealty to…well, Christianity. One such is the Ruth Institute, whose mission—in the words of its Catholic founder Jennifer Roback Morse—is opposing “sex abuse, pornography, and divorce.”
Mr. President, the Catechism, for its part, also opposes sex abuse, pornography and divorce. By the standards of the SPLC, every Catholic in America who accepts the Magisterium now qualifies as part of a “hate” group. So does every Catholic monastery, convent, school and archdiocese. So do Catholic soup kitchens, old-age homes, refugee resettlement programs, adoption agencies and other charitable operations run by the Church.
Mr. President, are you on board with the SPLC’s denigrations of your fellow believers?
Exhibit F: Your election has not only emboldened progressive muscle-flexers on social media. It also appears to have encouraged what might be called anti-Catholic chic—the kind that emanates from your allies in liberal-Left journalism.
A recent essay in The New Republic about Catholic theologians and their supposedly nefarious influence over America’s judicial branch is a case in point. Its accompanying illustration features Justice Amy Coney Barrett in a bishop’s miter—an ugly visual trope that dates back to the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings of the 1850s and beyond. The piece speaks darkly of a “50-year saga of Catholic intellectual and theological penetration of the halls of power.”
Replace “Catholics” with any other religious affiliation, or any identity group, in that sentence, and you will understand just how bigoted such fillips sound.
Mr. President, you are the most visible Catholic political leader in the world. You have a unique opportunity, once again, to demonstrate your stated commitment to being president for all. It’s the bully pulpit. Call off the woke online haters stalking your fellow Christians. Call out the ugly, un-American tradition of which they are part. Tell your progressive allies, and everyone else, that prejudice remains prejudice—even when it is aimed against people who did not vote for you.
As the first president with a photo of Pope Francis in his office, you should be the last to ignore what that same pontiff has called “the challenge posed by legislators who, in the name of some badly interpreted principle of tolerance, end up preventing citizens from freely expressing and practicing their own religious convictions in a peaceful and legitimate way.”
A Fellow American Catholic
Mary Eberstadt holds the Panula Chair at the Catholic Information Center and is a senior fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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