Nativists Focus Attacks on Religious Denominations

In the wake of two recent religious gatherings, anti-immigrant hard-liners are focusing their fire on two major religious faith groups: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The duo’s shared offense? In the past week, both have publicly opposed legislation that would require businesses to participate in E-Verify, a federal government tool for verifying people’s immigration status, and have called for compassionate treatment of all immigrants, regardless of legal status.

The John Birch Society (JBS) — a conspiracy-minded, far-right organization that made its name in the 1950s and 1960s by spreading anti-communist propaganda and working against school desegregation and has lately edged back into the mainstream by hooking up with Tea Party groups and Glenn Beck fans — took the lead in attacking the bishops. “American Catholic bishops, equating socialism with true Christian charity, have long been allies of the radical Left in its plans to socialize the American economy,” R. Cort Kirkwood wrote in comments that completely ignored the Catholic Church’s historical enmity toward communism and its staunch pro-Americanism during the Cold War. His article was published in JBS magazine The New American released yesterday.

“Now,” Kirkwood added, “they wish to alter the demographic landscape of the United States with unfettered immigration and are encouraging Catholics to help undermine the effort to ensure that foreign workers are legally employed in the United States.”

In Kirkwood’s eyes, the bishops, by advocating for comprehensive immigration reform — as they do in a current “Action Alert” urging Catholics to ask their legislators to support a path towards citizenship for undocumented immigrants — treasonously align themselves with the “reconquista lobby.” (The term “reconquista,” Spanish for “reconquering,” refers to a nonexistent secret Mexican conspiracy to take back the American Southwest. By way of explanation, Kirkwood hyperlinked the term to a 2006 article on the non-existent plot from the conservative magazine Human Events, co-authored by right-wing attack dog Jerome Corsi, author of the Obama-bashing Where’s the Birth Certificate?, and Jim Gilchrist, founding father of the Minuteman movement.)

Kirkwood also wove into his screed specious “facts” the about undocumented immigrants’ purportedly negative impact on the economy taken from the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR has criticized Catholics in similar ways before, and FAIR board member Donald Collins has frequently penned anti-Catholic screeds for the VDARE hate site. (VADRE stands for Virginia Dare, said to be the first English child born in the colonies.)

Collins' articles have focused on attacking the Catholic Church for its liberal stance on immigration. One accused Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony of selling out his country "in exchange for more temporal power and glory." Another claimed bishops were "infiltrating and manipulating the American political process" to dismantle the separation of church and state — the classic calumny directed at American Catholics for decades by the Klan and others.

Complementing the Birchers’ campaign against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, FAIR itself has now launched an attack on the generally more conservative Southern Baptist Convention, which at its annual convention last week passed a resolution calling on government officials “to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status … for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country” and stating that "any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman put it like this to the conservative website OneNewsNow last Thursday: "Nobody is asking the Southern Baptists or any other church to enforce laws or to treat people without proper respect, but they also have to respect the fact that the United States is a sovereign nation -- and it is the government of the United States that determines immigration laws based on the needs of the country, not based on the desire of a particular church seeking religious converts."