Despite the existence of constitutional guarantees and protections embedded in the Constitution for religious liberty and freedom of conscience, some argue that we are called to act for the safety of all Americans.
A man and two of his publications, Jeffersonian Magazine and Jeffersonian Weekly, spewed hatred toward specific groups leading many in Georgia to believe that adults did indeed draw the blood of children and drank it in a religious ritual. A young girl raped, murdered, and the accused convicted although some felt the conviction resulted more from religious bias than legitimate evidence. Even though convicted, the literature propagated a fear that the penalty would be a life sentence and not death for the heinous crime. The state militia rescued the governor and his wife from the capitol from lynch mobs.
Those of the same faith as the convicted feared for their lives as the words printed in the Jeffersonian Magazine and Jeffersonian Weekly served as bellows stoking an already raging fire. Those branded the enemy, about 3500 in Atlanta, closed their businesses, sought refuge in city hotels, and sent their wives and children out of state.
Meanwhile, a lynch mob proceeded to Milledgeville Prison, overpowered the guards, cut all communication lines into and out of the prison, and seized the man sentenced to life. They took him to Marietta near the young girl’s gravesite and hanged him from an oak. The mob and later concerned citizens celebrated and after the hangman’s rope had been cut the crowd began kicking and digging their heels into the face of the fallen corpse. In the manner of vultures the celebrants ripped away clothing, hair, and chunks of flesh as souvenirs. For years snapshots of the scene could be purchased in Southern drugstores.
Over in Alabama near Birmingham, Pratt City to be precise, night riders burned a church and an affiliated school to the ground. A pastor in Birmingham received death threats and hired armed guards to protect that church and sanctuary. The municipal elections brought in officials who fired all employees of that faith from local government jobs. The representatives deemed that businesses which employed members of the faith be boycotted. So-called vigilance committees visited employers to impress upon them the importance of hiring only those acceptable to the local government and the potential consequences of failing to abide to the will of the people.
All seemed to proceed as planned. The undesirables began leaving Birmingham, but an unexpected event altered the flow. The pastor who had received the initial death threats performed a marriage ceremony between a member of his faith to the daughter of an itinerant Christian preacher. Outraged, the Christian preacher went to the pastor’s church and shot him dead on the porch of the church rectory.
Law enforcement did take the Christian preacher into custody and during his trial he confessed to murdering the pastor in cold blood, but he argued that he had a right to do so. He had the best trial lawyer in the state. They managed to seat an all Christian male jury. The presiding judge belonged to the same Christian faith. As the attorney shamed and browbeat members of the slain pastor’s family and faith, the jury read Bibles and prayed instead of concentrating on the dealings within the courtroom. Ultimately that jury took a single vote and acquitted the itinerant Christian preacher on the grounds of self-defense.
These events took place 100 years ago. In Georgia it was Christians protecting the United States from Jews. In Alabama it was Christians protecting the United States from Roman Catholics.
There’s a multitude of more recent actions against Jews and Catholics. During the lifetime of the parents of my generation, people routinely firebombed synagogues in Mississippi. A bestselling book by Paul Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, built upon the idea that the Catholic religion undermined the core tenets of American society and freedom. Many believed that the Pope had tens of thousands of foot soldiers here in the United States stockpiling weapons and ammunition patiently awaiting the Pope’s signal to start the insurrection. Perhaps you might be one or know some of these foot soldiers today who collectively call themselves the Knights of Columbus.
It’s not Christianity; it’s not Islam; it’s not Judaism; it’s not agnosticism; it’s not atheism; it’s not Hinduism; it’s not Buddhism; it’s not these or other faiths or beliefs. It’s people who pervert these faiths or beliefs as justification for their own heinous thoughts and actions. Those are the people with whom we need to be concerned for crimes against humanity. If we allow the actions of the wicked to shape our faith and belief, have we not already sacrificed ourselves and succumbed to the desires of those who have twisted, debauched, corrupted that which contains good?
History might not repeat, but it often seems to rhyme.