People in New York City participate in a Jan. 29 protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban. (CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters)
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":
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Muslimbut 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").
seems to be something of a double standard, or at least some confused
rhetoric, at play here since we are constantly toldby Pope Francis, by
various bishops, by many political leadersthat 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:
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
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.
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
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.