Skip to main content

Statue of first Catholic Supreme Court justice may go

FREDERICK, Md. (The Catholic Review) - A bust of the first Catholic Chief Justice of the United States may get booted from its prominent perch in front of Frederick’s City Hall if a group of civil rights activists gets its way.

Pointing to Chief Justice Roger Taney’s role in writing the controversial Dred Scott v. Sanford decision that declared blacks to be non-citizens and that made slavery legal in all territories, members of the Frederick chapter of the NAACP are calling on city leaders to take down the bust. The movement has drawn a mixed response from the Catholic community, with some leaders arguing that it is wrong to remove a piece of art honoring a historic figure while others said the move could promote a sense of healing. Guy Djoken, head of the NAACP in Frederick, did not return numerous calls and e-mails from The Catholic Review requesting comment about the controversy. “We can look back and say the decision was a mistake and contrary to the teachings of the church, but he still was an important historic figure of the time,” said Monsignor Martin Feild, pastor of St. Joseph in Taneytown, Md. St. Joseph’s marriage records include a Jan. 7, 1806 entry noting the wedding of Chief Justice Taney to Anne Key - sister of Star Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key. “He was interpreting the constitution as he saw it at the time,” said Monsignor Feild. “Eventually everyone began to realize he was wrong - just as everyone hopefully will understand the abortion decision was wrong.” Monsignor Feild noted that once people begin taking down historic figures of controversial Americans, it becomes difficult to make distinctions. He pointed out that former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slaveholders. “If we do it with Taney, should we do it for them?” he asked. Father Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Manchester, Md., and a local church historian, said Chief Justice Taney was a very important leader and a “pillar of the church.” Chief Justice Taney was one of the longest-serving chief justices, leading the court from 1836-1864. Chief Justice Taney lived many years in Frederick County where he was a parishioner of St. John in Frederick. The chief justice, also a former Maryland Attorney General, U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was a close friend of Father John DuBois, founder of what today is Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., and a former pastor of St. John. Chief Justice Taney was instrumental in supporting a public lottery that raised money to build a church at St. John. He is buried in the parish’s cemetery. “Taney was regarded as a very good Catholic,” said Father Roach. The historian noted that by the end of the 1850s, the political strength of the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party was lessening, but many Americans continued to “despise” Catholics. “It’s pretty impressive that he made it to the Supreme Court,” Father Roach said. The pastor said he finds it “embarrassing that we’re trying to rewrite history” by removing the bust of Chief Justice Taney. Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Human Relations and a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier in East Baltimore, said she is sympathetic to those who are offended by the bust’s presence in such a prominent spot in Frederick. Although she said she appreciates Chief Justice Taney’s historical importance, the African-American Catholic said his Dred Scott decision severely hurt the African-American community - leaving a painful legacy of state-supported discrimination that lingered well into the 20th century. “The symbolism of the statue is similar to having a Confederate flag in the South,” she said. “It represents a constant reminder that you are not equal. It sends a message that creates fear or reminds people of the vestiges of racism that still exist today.” Ms. Hughes said discussion of the bust has led to a helpful wider dialogue about issues of race in Frederick County. The Frederick controversy is not the first one to confront a Taney statue. After some Annapolis residents called for the removal of a similar bust in Maryland’s capital, a compromise was reached when a statue of Justice Thurgood Marshall - a civil rights proponent - was added near the site of the Taney bust.

---

Republished by Catholic Online with permission of The Catholic Review, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Md. (www.catholicreview.org).

Keywords:



NEWSLETTERS »

E-mail:       Zip Code: (ex. 90001)
Today's Headlines

Sign up for a roundup of the day's top stories. 5 days / week. See Sample

Rate This Article

Very Helpful Somewhat Helpful Not Helpful at All

Yes, I am Interested No, I am not Interested

Rate Article

0 Comments

Leave a Comment

Comments submitted must be civil, remain on-topic and not violate any laws including copyright. We reserve the right to delete any comments which are abusive, inappropriate or not constructive to the discussion.

Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish any comment which denigrates the human person, undermines marriage and the family, or advocates for positions which openly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is a supervised forum and the Editors of Catholic Online retain the right to direct it.

We also reserve the right to block any commenter for repeated violations. Your email address is required to post, but it will not be published on the site.

We ask that you NOT post your comment more than once. Catholic Online is growing and our ability to review all comments sometimes results in a delay in their publication.

Send me important information from Catholic Online and it's partners. See Sample

Post Comment

Newsletter Sign Up

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Job 9:1-12, 14-16
Job spoke next. He said: Indeed, I know it is as you say: how ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Do you work wonders for the dead, can shadows rise up to praise ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:57-62
As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

October 1 Saint of the Day

St. Therese of Lisieux
October 1: Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint, called ... Read More