Fr. Coughlin

Fr. Charles Coughlin's popular radio program attacked Jews and argued that a fascist government was necessary to defeat communism.

Fr. Charles Coughlin's popular radio program attacked Jews and argued that
a fascist government was necessary to defeat communism.

Father Charles Edward Coughlin, a Roman Catholic Priest from Royal Oak, Michigan, hosted a popular radio program, The Golden Hour of the Little Flower, during the Great Depression. When Coughlin started his program in 1926, his broadcasts were limited to the kinds of religious and moral issues one would expect from a clergyman. When the United States entered the Great Depression, Coughlin's show began to focus more time on social, economic, and political problems. While Coughlin considered himself to be a champion of working men who were being exploited by corporate interests, he had no sympathy for Jews, even though many of them suffered the same plight as their Gentile counterparts. Coughlin received over 80,000 letters a week at the height of his fame.

Modern photograph of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, which was Fr. Coughlin's parish during the time he resided in Detriot. Its construction was funded by Coughlin's radio activities.

Modern photograph of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, which was Fr. Coughlin's parish during the time he resided in Detriot. Its construction was funded by Coughlin's radio activities.

Coughlin was a radical reformer, who believed that drastic steps were necessary to bring America out of the Great Depression. Although he was initially a supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Coughlin eventually denounced the president for not pursuing more radical economic and monetary policies. To exert more influence in politics, Coughlin started a political party (Union for Social Justice) and a fascist organization known as The Christian Front, which was based on Benito Mussolini's Italian Fascist Party.

Coughlin despised capitalism and communism, and believed that Jews were responsible for both as part of a global conspiracy. Consequently, Coughlin devoted a considerable amount of time on his program denouncing the evils wrought by these systems and those whom he perceived to be behind them. Like Charles Lindbergh, Coughlin argued that Jews had too much influence on American society and believed that they were trying to pull the United States into a needless conflict. Although Coughlin's rhetoric was becoming embarassing for the Catholic Church, the only person who could silence him was his immediate superior, the bishop of Detriot, Michael Gallager. However, because Gallager was in agreement with Coughlin's political views, nothing was done.

Coughlin's demagoguery reached new heights in 1936 when he expressed sympathy for the fascist and racist policies of Hitler and Mussolini as an antidote to communism. Over the next two years his speeches became increasingly antisemitic. On November 20, 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, Coughlin blamed the Jewish victims, saying that “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted.” About a month later, two thousand of Coughlin’s followers marched in New York protesting potential asylum law changes that would allow more Jews to enter the country, chanting, “Send Jews back where they came from in leaky boats!” and “Wait until Hitler comes over here!” He also serialized the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his magazine Social Justice, citing it as proof of a Jewish conspiracy.

By the time the United States entered World War II, Coughlin's assertions were getting him in trouble with the federal authorities and his superiors in the Catholic Church. By 1942, Coughlin's open sympathies with the Axis powers led to the suspension of his privileges to use the United States mail to send copies of his magazine, because it was feared that he was disseminating seditious materials. Shortly thereafter, the new bishop of Lansing, who was not sympathetic to Coughlin's views, ordered him to return to his duties as a parish priest.

Works Cited

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Charles E. Coughlin." Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/index.php?ModuleId=10005143 (accessed July 9, 2008).

Social Security Online. "Social Security Online History Pages: Father Charles E. Coughlin." Social Security Online. http://www.ssa.gov/history/cough.html (accessed July 9, 2008).