There are no words to express the anger I felt upon seeing vandalized headstones in a Jewish graveyard. Seeing it in St. Louis sickened me. Seeing it in my Philadelphia backyard turned the sickness into a disease.
I railed against it on my radio show, posted about it on my Facebook page, demanded that President Trump go further and with greater fury in condemning these hateful acts of prejudice. This is the stuff that corrodes our communal spirit. Fortunately, it's an easy and obvious evil.
But there are more dangerous types of bigotry: The kind that hide behind sober statements at community meetings and sterile zoning objections. That brand of bigotry is specifically designed to fly under the average radar, and when someone with heightened sensitivity to these things picks up a muffled but steady signal, she will be told she's a snowflake.
But at the risk of looking like an enraged and middle-aged Elsa, this snowflake is not about to let bigotry go unobserved.
Villanova University is my alma mater. It is a Catholic institution infused with and informed by Augustinian principle. When it awarded me my law degree exactly 30 years ago this coming May, I was convinced this was an education that had bridged the scholarly and the spiritual.
Villanova is planning a bridge to connect one part of the campus to another. It will span Lancaster Avenue in Radnor Township and is designed to allow safe passage for the students at this, I'm repeating myself here, Catholic university.
As part of the bridge, the design provides for wo 4-foot, 7-inch crosses placed on stone pillars at either end of the structure. In a normal world, a Catholic university using its own money to place crosses on structures that will be situated on its own property would not make it to page one of the local papers.
But, as we have seen with the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, we are no longer in a normal world. Somehow, Villanova's architectural plans have become controversial. There are those questioning whether the crosses will pose a safety issue if students climb on them - as if drunken 'Nova frat boys in stupors will try and impale each other on the dangerous religious symbols.
They didn't actually put it that way, but you get the hidden meaning behind comments such as this from a member of the local League of Women Voters: What risks, both real and imagined, might be incurred through such ornamentation? Since young adults can act in unpredictable ways, are adequate safeguards in place to prevent students being injured through their own actions, or those of others?
And then there are comments like this, from a concerned Radnor Township citizen worried that this verdant part of the Delaware Valley will be turned into the Holy Roman Empire: "I think they are overstepping their sense of ecumenism to shove these crosses in our faces.
Yes, the school is forcing the poor neighbors to convert to Catholicism which, as we all know, is done simply by exposing drivers and pedestrians to large crosses. Non-Catholics can be forgiven for not knowing those tricks we papists have under our sleeves. It's how we deal with dwindling numbers, silly people!
By this point you are probably not amused. That's okay,because neither am I. It's inconceivable to me that people would have a legitimate problem with a Catholic university that has given so richly to the surrounding community erecting a symbol of its faith on a structure that will actually heighten the safety of students and anyone else who chooses to use the walkway.
How petty of these neighbors to condemn the school for living its faith in public. How wrong for them to question whether a cross on a bridge on a campus owned by a Catholic University somehow violates the First Amendment. How nitpicking of these Radnor Township elders to have a "problem" with crosses in the open air.
I really do think this has to do with anti-Catholicism, and those who would push back and call me crazy are entitled to their views. But consider that the reason opponents are upset about the bridge has nothing to do with real safety issues, because there are none. The bridge itself is to protect pedestrians from having to cross a busy intersection.
The reason that people are angered about this bridge is because it will raise visible crosses against the horizon. People don't like that. They can say that they wouldn't like Stars of David or Crescents looming over their treetops either, and when that happens I'll write a nice column about anti-semitism and Islamophobia.
But the language being used, both veiled and overt, proves to me that some people don't like being reminded that a Catholic, Christian university is in their backyards.
They don't like the idea that papists are proud of their faith, and want to announce it to the world. They don't, as that concerned Radnor Township citizen noted, want the church to "shove its crosses" down their throats.
People who knock over Jewish headstones are bigots.
People who deface Mosques, are bigots.