Atlanta archbishop on poisonous political talk: ‘It’s in the water’

As the weekend broke, Denis O’Hayer of WABE (90.1FM) posted an interview with Archbishop Wilton Gregory, in which the Catholic cleric touched on the issues of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on six majority-Muslim countries, the idea of “sanctuary” cities, and the poisonous state of civic discourse.

Listen to the entire interview here. A few excerpts, starting first with Gregory’s view of the travel ban now being reviewed in two federal courts:

“I don’t know exactly what the courts will do or what they’re anticipating. But they really do have to be careful that we don’t get caught up in an anti-religious bias. And I think … the legislation that is proposed walks dangerously close to that line.”

O’Hayer also asked if any church in Gregory’s jurisdiction have has sought to become a formal sanctuary for illegal immigrants trying to avoid deportation. Said Gregory:

“No one has come to me with that particular request, although many people within the archdiocese are willing to try to do whatever they can to protect the vulnerable, to keep families safe, to make sure that people are not harassed or made to feel that they have to hide out.”

But American churches enjoy no formal exemption from the reach of federal law, and the Catholic archbishop says churches ought not to make promises they can’t keep:

“To use the term ‘sanctuary’ – it is not a political reality that we can employ. So we don’t want to promise to do that which we cannot deliver.

 

“…To have people holed up in a church, or a family relocate in a church, does not grant them the kind of security that sometimes is identified with the sanctuary movement. ‘Sanctuary,’ if it means within a church they can find as much pastoral outreach and social care that they can, that’s certainly what we’re doing…”

 

O’Hayer: “If a church came to you and said we are afraid of another crackdown….and we want to shelter some folks from the authorities, what tell them?

 

Gregory: “I would tell them to explore all of the legal and judicial options that they have, but don’t promise people something that cannot be enforced. Something that cannot be maintained….To suggest that they can shelter all of the many people who might come to them is something that is simply physically impossible, and it’s not attainable under the existing laws of this nation…”

At the tail end of the 15-minute interview, O’Hare asked the archbishop to address the recent spate of threats aimed at Jewish community centers in Atlanta and elsewhere. Said Gregory:

It is the fruit of public discourse that has gone awry, that has now given free rein to people to express some of the most horrific feelings against other people based on race, based on religion, based on countries of origin. And it seems to have only gotten worse. We now have people in prominent public positions saying things publicly that once would have been roundly condemned.

 

O’Hare: “I presume you might be talking about U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.”

 

Gregory: “He is but one.”

 

O’Hare: “Many people have pointed fingers at the administration, saying that if they haven’t encouraged it, they’ve at least winked at it….

 

Gregory: “I don’t want to blame any one particular party or one individual. I think it’s systemic. I think what’s out in the public arena has so damaged our ability to speak to one another, to express differences of opinion, to be able to disagree without condemning another person or denying another person’s humanity. It’s in the water, Denis.”

***

This week will be one of the busiest on Capitol Hill so far this year, with Russia, the Supreme Court, Sonny Perdue and health care in the spotlight. But aside from Perdue, expect Georgians to largely stay out of the headlines this week.

The Georgia delegation no longer has representation on the House Intelligence Committee, which will probe FBI Director James Comey on Russia’s involvement in last year’s election this morning. Ditto for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which today begins the first of several days of confirmation hearings on Neil Gorsuch. U.S. Sen. David Perdue left the panel to serve on Banking and Armed Services earlier this year.

As for health care, most Georgia Republicans in the House were on board with their leaders’ plan as of late last week. One of the state’s last holdouts, Barry Loudermilk of Cassville, gave his okay Friday after huddling with President Donald Trump.

By our count, the only Georgian who may still be on the fence is Freedom Caucus member Jody Hice. All Democrats in the delegation are firmly against the GOP plan. A final passage vote is planned for Thursday.

Perdue’s Senate confirmation hearing, meanwhile, will also come on Thursday. It will likely be overshadowed by Gorsuch, which does not trouble Team Perdue at all. Many said they’re happy to fly under the radar for now.

***

All that said, mark your calendars for Tuesday, March 28th. That’s when former Atlanta prosecutor Sally Yates, whom President Donald Trump fired after she defied him as acting attorney general, will testify before House Intelligence on Russia. Read the backstory here.

Next week is also when the Senate is expected to begin acting on the House health care bill. U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson have sounded positive notes about the legislation, but so far have steered clear of definitive yes or no statements.

***

The Independent Journal Review, a conservative-leaning media outlet with a string of scoops in the Donald Trump era, has a familiar name among its big-name investors: Georgia campaign wunderkind Nick Ayers.

Buzzfeed reports that Ayers — a top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence and Georgia’s Perdue clan — is a part-owner of the website. From the piece:

There’s no indication that Ayers was involved in this week’s controversial State Department decision to grant the sole press spot on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Asia to IJR’s White House correspondent. The move, a break from tradition, has enraged the State Department press corps as Tillerson makes big diplomatic news without a traditional pooler tagging along.

 

Ayers’ investment in IJR is another example of close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet. Steve Bannon, the president’s top strategist, ran Breitbart News for years and has brought with him to the administration a handful of ex-Breitbart staffers. The company has said that it no longer has financial and editorial ties to Bannon. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner transferred his ownership of The New York Observer to a family trust.

IJR founder Alex Skatell said in an email to his staff that Ayers and other outside investors own less than 10 percent of the firm.

“We should celebrate people willing to invest in journalism and especially our audience that is largely underserved,” he wrote. “What is wrong and hurtful is suggesting that we are controlled by any individual or even group that collectively amounts to less than 10 percent ownership.”

 ***

Donald Trump’s election has brought about a comeback of political ‘salons’ – much like the French gathering they’re named for — where friends gather to map out how they will resist his presidency. The Guardian has more about the Progressive Salon of Decatur:

“I used the term salon to evoke old gatherings of artists and intellectuals in a hostess’s home,” said Mary Huber, founder of the Progressive Salon of Decatur. “Yep, Paris in the 1920s, recreated here in Decatur, Georgia,” she quipped.

 

The 2017 salon is more often marked by groups of friends and neighbors organizing specific political actions, from raising money to educating each other about the refugee ban, while hanging out and making new friendships.

 

“I used to meet friends at the gym; now I meet them in brainstorming sessions,” said Huber.

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