The New York Times and the U.S. bishops appear to have very different understandings of President Trump’s motivations, but do seem to arrive at an equally negative conclusion. First, here is Times‘ editor David Leonhardt’s take, titled “Trump Flirts With Theocracy”:
Let’s not mince words. President Trump’s recent actions are an attempt to move the United States away from being the religiously free country that the founders created — and toward becoming an aggressively Christian country hostile to other religions. … On Friday afternoon, of course, Trump signed an executive order barring refugees and citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was his way of making good on a campaign promise to ban Muslims from the country.
The order also said it would eventually give priority to religious minorities from these countries. And if anyone doubted who that meant, Trump gave an interview Friday to the Christian Broadcasting Network, explaining that its goal was indeed to help Christians. Fortunately, many Christian leaders are opposing the policy.
I expect that Trump’s attempts to undermine the First Amendment will ultimately fail. But they’re not guaranteed to fail. He is the president, and he has tremendous power.
The attempts will fail only if Americans work to defeat the White House’s flirtations with theocracy — as so many people began to do this weekend. This passionate, creative opposition may help explain Trump’s weakening of the ban on Sunday. Yet the struggle to defend American values is clearly going to be a long and difficult one.
The USCCB has now released a joint statement, signed by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, which states in part:
The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice. The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would “promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.
The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom. Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith. Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil. We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.
The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself. Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity. Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.
It’s important to point out, I think, that neither of the above texts actually links to or quotes from the executive order in question (here is a link to it at CNN; the White House site is inaccessible as I write this). You will search the order in vain to find any direct reference to Muslims or Islam. Yes, of course the executive order zeroes in on countries that are predominantly Muslim—but those countries were chosen in large part because of precedent set by the Obama administration (I think that’s what is known as “an inconvenient fact”).
But there seems to be something of a double standard, or at least some confused rhetoric, at play here since we are constantly told—by Pope Francis, by various bishops, by many political leaders—that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. But when an executive order addressing terrorism and “foreign-born individuals” who may well commit acts of terrorism, it is immediately seen as directed against Muslims. That’s just a tad incoherent; or, as the old saying goes: having one’s caking and eating it too. (On a semi-related note, when did “Muslim” become an ethnicity?)
The executive order, somewhat ironically, includes this:
In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.
But, hey, why bother reading the actual document when you can simply rant like a loon (some good examples here) and act as if the world just ended. My point here is not to analyze or even defend the executive order, which seems to my non-expert eye to be fairly commonsensical but has elicited thoughtful and learned criticism from some conservatives. Meanwhile, others have pointed out that the hysteria and hyperbole appear to be far more about going after President Trump than about putting the executive order into any sort of proper context. For instance, from David French at NRO:
The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.
In 2002, the United States admitted only 27,131 refugees. It admitted fewer than 50,000 in 2003, 2006, and 2007. As for President Obama, he was slightly more generous than President Bush, but his refugee cap from 2013 to 2015 was a mere 70,000, and in 2011 and 2012 he admitted barely more than 50,000 refugees himself. The bottom line is that Trump is improving security screening and intends to admit refugees at close to the average rate of the 15 years before Obama’s dramatic expansion in 2016. Obama’s expansion was a departure from recent norms, not Trump’s contraction.
So, no, this executive order isn’t an act or theocratic hubris, nor is it an assault on Christian beliefs (unless taking prudential steps to address terrorism against the U.S. is to be viewed as such an assualt). While I appreciate the warm sentiment behind the bishops’ statement that the “bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice,” I think we would be better served by both a careful examination of facts and some honesty about the situation at hand. Not all Muslims are interested in charity and justice. And, yes, ISIS and similar groups are Islamic. As French points out:
Trump’s order was not signed in a vacuum. Look at the Heritage Foundation’s interactive timeline of Islamist terror plots since 9/11. Note the dramatic increase in planned and executed attacks since 2015. Now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time to take a fresh look at our border-control and immigration policies.
I agree. Less heat, please, and more light.
UPDATE: I should have included this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Catholic teaching about how nations should respond to refugees and immigrants:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. (par 2241)
Also, see this new NRO article by Andrew C. McCarthy, who has been an advisor to the Trump administration as it works to put together its approach to refugees, immigrants, and dealing with the threat of terrorism:
These bans are not the ultimate objective. The goal is to give the public immediate protection while the government has a few months to refine threat-based vetting procedures.
As already noted, there were implementation problems with Trump’s EO. Nevertheless, if our choice is (a) the Washington approach of never getting to a good national-security policy because it could offend Islamists and the Left, or (b) Trump’s approach of imperfectly implementing a good national-security policy at the risk of offending Islamists and the Left, then give me Trump’s approach every time.
All that said, though, we should not hide under our beds in shame every time an Islamist, a Democrat, or a media talking-head spews: “Muslim ban!” Of course we’re banning Muslims. We’re moving to an exclusion of radical Islam, and radical Islam is exclusively made up of Muslims.