If we rely on the religious roots of America as a beacon of freedom, shouldn’t the Muslim religious community be offered an equal seat?
For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by the use of the term “the Judeo-Christian ethic” to describe the values and the moral, ethical and spiritual teachings that define American exceptionalism and this nation’s understanding of itself and its mission in the world.
That Jews and Judaism, a community that makes up less than three percent of the American population, can be equated with Christianity, a religion to which the majority of Americans adhere, is nothing less than astonishing. But a close look at the historical record belies this concept. Until very recently, no more than 50 or 60 years ago, there was practically no precedent whatsoever for understanding Judaism and Christianity as sharing a common core of beliefs, practices or morals. It was not until 1952, perhaps with an eye toward the devastating effects of the Holocaust that destroyed more than two-thirds of European Jewry, an event whose consequences he personally witnessed, that President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the concept a part of our national religious vocabulary. In connecting the term with the ideals of the Founding Fathers, he stated that ” ‘All men are endowed by their Creator.’ In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us, of course, it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal.
Although the efforts of the National Reform Association never reached beyond the House Judiciary Committee, where it languished for years, and even though it was periodically reintroduced with no success, the “Christian” character of America was self-understood by large parts of our nation.
For American Jews, a Christian America meant quota restrictions to Ivy League universities, as well as to medical and law schools, jobs that were advertised as “Christian only” and a growing national antipathy that revealed a dislike of Jews at the beginning of World War II only exceeded by negative feelings toward Germany and Japan.
Much of that pronounced anti-Semitism disappeared or went underground in the years after 1945. It became “uncool” to be connected to openly anti-Semitic feelings although Jews were systematically excluded from certain exclusive neighborhoods, summer establishments and private clubs well into the 1960s and beyond. Such restrictions were a part of Maine’s history as well.