AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Flanigan
While evangelical Christians have historically made up the most notable bloc of religious Americans within the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement, a growing wave of anti-Catholic sentiment on the left could offer Republicans a vital opportunity to make their case about why the GOP platform best serves the interests and values of Catholic voters.
Perhaps the most notable recent instance of the left’s anti-Catholic persecution was a leaked internal FBI memo earlier this year which stated that the Richmond, Virginia FBI field office was targeting “traditionalist Catholics”—defined partially by the FBI as those who attend Latin Mass—as an “extremist” threat. Though the FBI has since announced a retraction of the document, those who practice the Catholic faith—as well as other American believers—likely remain skeptical.
In the aftermath of the leak, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) even defended the FBI, claiming that the agency’s actions were somehow good for Catholic parishes. Additionally, President Joe Biden, who is regularly hailed by the media as a “devout” Catholic—remained silent on the matter.
In response to the memo, Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond stated that he was “alarmed,” insisting the document “should be troubling and offensive to all communities of faith, as well as all Americans.” Knestout also called on the Commonwealth of Virginia to “exercise their role of oversight” and to “publicly condemn this threat to religious liberty.”
Knestout’s comments were echoed by other American bishops—including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York—signaling that even among the Catholic hierarchy, there is an increasingly clear-eyed view that people of faith are indeed under attack.
In another instance of brazen religious persecution, last fall, the FBI sent more than 20 armed agents to raid the home Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist and father of seven children in Pennsylvania. Houck was arrested and charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act stemming from an incident outside an abortion center last year.
As video evidence shows, Houck was praying the rosary outside a clinic with his son when a pro-abortion activist approached and verbally harassed them. Houck later explained how the abortion activist shouted expletives at his son, which prompted Houck to shove him to the ground. For this act, Houck faced 11 years in prison and a $350,000 fine.
Thankfully, Houck was acquitted by a jury earlier this year. But that did not do anything to stop the impression that the Biden administration is deliberately targeting faithful Catholics.
In yet another instance of this pattern, the Biden Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently threatened to revoke an Oklahoma Catholic hospital’s accreditation if it did not remove its sanctuary candle. The hospital’s legal counsel described the punitive and coercive move as an effort “to extinguish not just a candle, but the First Amendment rights of the Saint Francis Health System, as well as vital healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled in Oklahoma.”
In a victory for Catholics and other religious Americans, HHS eventually backed down—sparing the hospital from a long and arduous legal battle.
Of course, these incidents are only the beginning of the left’s streak of anti-Catholicism. Last summer, a series of attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and Catholic parishes following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which returned the power to legislate on abortion to the states, was met with silence from Democrat Party leaders. While Biden’s DOJ was sure to bring maximum force to bear against pro-life activist Mark Houck, there have been no such high-profile raids against vandals who targeted pro-life institutions.
In another example of the left’s growing hostility toward Catholics, Democrats relentlessly targeted then-judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2020. As far back as 2017, California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein was telling Barrett that her faith, in essence, precluded her from serving on the federal bench, infamously declaring, “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
During the 2022 midterm election cycle, one conservative entity began to call attention to this pattern of anti-Catholic sentiment. Frontiers of Freedom Action, a conservative super PAC, ran a series of ads against five incumbent Senate Democrats in New York, Arizona, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Nevada that emphasized the senators’ complicity in an “anti-Catholic religious test” for judicial nominees and presidential appointees.
Unlike evangelicals, historically associated with more widespread support for Republican candidates, Catholics are typically split nearly down the middle. Though both Catholics and evangelicals account for approximately a quarter of U.S. voters, 75 percent of evangelicals supported Donald Trump in 2020, whereas the candidate who earns the majority of Catholic votes routinely alternates between Republicans and Democrats, with the vote outcome very narrowly decided nearly every time.
If the GOP is able to further expose Democrats’ anti-Catholic bias, however, Republicans could see Catholic voters joining them in droves. Most Catholic voters would likely be shocked to learn of Democrats’ laundry list of anti-Catholic initiatives—and if the party establishment directed any effort to earn the support of politically disaffected Catholics (particularly Hispanic Catholics in sunbelt purple states), Catholic voters could become just as instrumental to the GOP’s electoral fortunes as evangelicals.
With many Democrats now not even bothering to hide their disdain for Catholics, this shift could well begin in earnest in the 2024 election cycle. Moreover, aside from just electoral victories, a powerful coalition of evangelical and Catholic voters would likely prove instrumental in restoring Christian values and religious belief to a central place in American life.
Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.