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America's bigoted past repeated?

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Has Sharia Law bumped Canon Law as the threat to the Constitution being "the Law of the Land"?

As the grandson of Lebanese immigrants on both sides, one of my fondest memories from childhood was my weekly, maybe 2-mile Saturday morning hike with my brother, Edward, from our home on 85th Street and Ridge Blvd. in Bayridge, Brooklyn to "Jiddo" and "Tieta," my paternal grandparents, on 82nd and 13th in Bensonhurst. I especially looked forward to the trek during the summer when my father's older sister, Aunt Rachel (Raja), and Uncle Moses came up with their four boys.

The most memorable of these annual visits occurred during the presidential campaign of 1960, pitting the Catholic John F. Kennedy against the Quaker Richard M. Nixon. It was a campaign fraught with an anti-Catholic atmosphere. But it was not one created by Nixon. Rather, it was the product of the bias of Protestant, especially Baptist, clergy in the "Bible Belt" South and Southwest who were sincerely and unalterably horrified at the prospect of a Catholic President of the United States.

While Aunt Rachel was, like my father, Brooklyn-born and bred, Uncle Moses hailed from the then small, western North Carolina town of Shelby. In his youth, back in the early 20th century, his was -- as I remember him saying -- the only Lebanese family and one of only a few Catholic families there.

During this particular visit to my grandparents, Uncle Moses related his experience as a Lebanese Maronite Catholic in Shelby during another, earlier, highly fraught presidential campaign: the 1928 one between the Protestant (also Quaker) Herbert Hoover and the Catholic Alfred E. Smith.

Young Moses had become friends with a Baptist co-worker. The fellow shared that his pastor had openly warned the congregation not to vote for Smith. Smith was "Catlik" and Catholics had horns coming out of their heads. At that, Uncle Moses, lowering his head, asked the fellow, "Do you see any horns on my head?" "No, Moses," he answered. "Well, I'm Catholic."

During the '60 campaign -- I was 17 at the time and followed it pretty closely -- Kennedy had to contend with a resurgence of the 1928 outlandish, but quite serious, speculation of what would happen if a Catholic became president. The pope was planning to convert the White House into a branch of the Vatican and/or the pope was going to move into the White House. The Canon Law of the Catholic Church would supplant the Constitution as "the Law of the Land." Catholicism would be proclaimed the "State Religion" and/or the Mass might become the service of choice. Finally, the brutal medieval Inquisition might be imposed to ensure Catholic orthodoxy.

As I said: outlandish, but serious.

On Sept. 12 1960, Kennedy courageously accepted an invitation to speak before a pretty hostile "Greater Houston Ministerial Association." While straightforwardly professing himself a Catholic, he nonetheless laid to rest any notion that the pope would run the country, that Canon Law would become the "Law of the Land," that Catholicism would become the state religion, and that a new Catholic Inquisition would enforce it.

Kennedy won, and the rest is history.Our nation has had a fraught past in regard to its treatment of and suspicion towards minorities of all stripes: ethnic, racial, and -- yes -- religious.

Examples are only too plentiful:

-- The extended and most often violent subjugation of the Native American, synopsized in the "Trail of Tears."

-- The well-documented Protestant majority oppression of Catholic and even Protestant minorities in the thirteen original colonies.

-- The long road of often tortuous exile from America's heartland to its far West, which was endured by the hated and ridiculed Mormons.

-- The demeaning treatment of Jews to the extent that, in certain parts of the country, even to almost the middle of the 20th century, rabbis donned Christian clerical collars in a sad bid "to fit in."

-- The violence conducted in the 19th century by the Protestant "Know-Nothing" nativists against Catholics in the more "liberal" Northeast.

-- The centuries-long trial, even to this moment, of racial injustice endured by America's blacks.

Questions:

-- Are today's Muslim-Americans the new minority-of-choice to be treated with the same contempt, suspicion, hatred, bigotry as those named above?

-- Has Sharia Law bumped Canon Law as the threat to the Constitution being "the Law of the Land"?

-- Will a Muslim president (Ben Carson's stated fear) take his orders from the Grand Imam of Al Azhar in Cairo or the Grand Ayatollah of Qum (Iran), as it was once feared Smith and Kennedy would take their orders from the pope?

-- Indeed, will the Grand Ayatollah or the Grand Imam be readying to call the White House his home, as Smith and Kennedy's pope was going to do?

-- Is the charge that the Muslim-American community will bring ISIS to our shores today's version of a Catholic President planting the Inquisition here?

Are we in danger of "Round and round this goes, and where it stops nobody knows"?

FATHER JOSEPH THOMAS, BSO, IS A LECTURER AT ST. BASIL'S SEMINARY, METHUEN.

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