On September 1, 2012, Thomas Perez, Pres. Obama's nominee to head the Labor Department and current Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), spoke to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in Washington D.C. on the 'bigotry' and 'Islamophobia' of some Americans towards the Muslim community and Islam.
Perez likened their struggles to anti-Catholicism during the 19th century from the Know-Nothing Party and reassured the audience the Obama administration will be there for them. The speech was picked up on audio.
The Assistant AG made the case by drawing parallels between the Murfreesboro mosque case- a back-and-forth court case over a mosque in Tennessee - and 19th century anti-Catholicism, saying if you substituted "The Pope" for "Jihad", and "Canon Law" for "Sharia Law," the treatment and circumstances are remarkably similar.
"If you take the judge's statement I quote above about 'arsenals of jihad' and substituted 'Canon law' for 'Sharia Law,' and 'The Pope' for 'Jihad,' this could have been taken out of the minutes of the Massachusetts legislature in 1854, when the Know-Nothing party was in control," Perez stated. (Note: The following is the shortened version of the audio, click here for the full version.)
He continues, "The anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, one million strong, took control of the governorships and legislatures in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and gained partial control in other states, such as Pennsylvania. But, in Massachusetts, they gained the entire Senate, all but three of the 379 members of the House, and the governorship, and proceeded on their mission to "Americanize America."
"They dismissed Catholic state workers, banned foreign language instruction in the public schools, and proposed constitutional amendments to deprive Roman Catholics of the right to hold public office, among other measures. And, sounding like the Murfreesboro judge, they created a 'Joint Special Committee on the Inspection of Nunneries and Convents,' believing that 'acts of villainy, injustice and wrong are perpetrated within the walls of said institutions as a result of their immunity from public inspection.' The Know-Nothings believed that Catholicism was fundamentally incompatible with American democracy and that Catholic immigrants could never become loyal Americans. As a Pennsylvania Know-Nothing leader put it, Catholic 'principles and practices are in direct hostility to our Republicanism,'" he added.
Perez went on to say he hopes the sentiments by some people towards Muslims sound as "silly" one day as the anti-Catholicism of the Know-Nothings:
"Today of course, Catholicism is so much a part of American culture that such sentiments just sound silly. But people died in anti-Catholic riots, and churches and convents were burned to the ground. Some day, I hope and believe, the anti-Muslim fears of today will also seem just as strange."
He reassures the audience the Department of Justice will always be there to speak up for them.
"I come to you with a deeply rooted optimism. We saw the death of the Know-Nothing movement, and just as we did then, we will see the better angels of America summoned," Perez promised.