A newspaper columnist complained about immigrants who would like to change traditional American customs and ways. This is our country, the author said–a Christian country in which people speak English. If newcomers don’t like that, he said, they should exercise their right to return to their original homelands. A gracEmail subscriber asked for my reaction.
Early American colonists included debtors, adventurers, criminals and–most famously–some in quest of religious freedom. Unfortunately, not all those who sought religious freedom for themselves extended that freedom to others. Virginians cherished freedom from Catholic oppression but early Marylanders were Catholics fleeing persecution by Protestants both here and across the Atlantic. Quakers founded Pennsylvania and Baptists settled in Rhode Island because Anglican and Catholic settlers didn’t want them in their colonies. Founding fathers Washington and Adams apparently were devout Christians, but Jefferson and Franklin were deists who rejected the Bible’s supernatural elements. The percentage of Americans regularly attending church in 1776 was smaller than it is today
The 20th Century saw millions of immigrants from Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Shinto countries–people with no Christian background, whose languages bear no resemblance to English. This created a society unimaginable as recently as 1950–certainly not envisioned by the founding fathers, whose best and still-unfulfilled instincts led them to draft the U.S. Constitution.
Today that Constitution provides freedoms of religion, speech and association for these diverse and disparate Americans as well. Ever since the city of New Amsterdam became New York, most immigrants who wished to advance in this country have learned to speak English. But so long as the Statue of Liberty holds the torch of freedom and invites the “huddled masses” to our shores, it is inconsistent to tell those who come in good faith and intending to keep the law to go back where they came from. To tell the truth, it is probably un-American and un-Christian as well.