Anxieties may stem from legitimate concerns over faith differences. But today, the Muslim community is plagued with unbridled suspicion and skepticism. Anti-Muslim prejudice persists at high levels, despite the fact that a North Carolina research group has found that terrorism by Muslim Americans poses a “minuscule threat to public safety.” While polls show that followers of the Islamic faith are economically, socially and politically integrated into the fabric of America, detractors warn that the Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia law are silently gaining influence. In the United States and Europe, alarmists interpret Muslim immigration and the erection of mosques as indications of a monstrous presence lying in wait. The election of Islamist parties abroad has only heightened those fears.
Catholics, if anyone, know the pain caused by such mischaracterizations. It’s a tragic part of their history in this country. In the 1800s and 1900s, many believed that Catholics could not be loyal Americans. New England was the epicenter of conspiracies about a secret Catholic plot to take over the country and install papal rule. A boom of Catholic immigrants from Europe, and their subsequent construction of churches and dioceses, led one writer to conclude that the Catholic “serpent” had “commenced its coil about [America’s] limbs and the lethargy of his poison is creeping over us.” The election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 rebirthed the conspiracy theories of earlier years. Dr. Norman Vincent Peal, possibly the nation’s most prominent Protestant minister of the time, said that the election of Kennedy, a Catholic, would “bring American foreign policy into line with Vatican objectives.”