What does academic intolerance of real debate mean for free speech?
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Listen to the 10 min audio
Read the transcript:
ACADEMIC INTOLERANCE OF DEBATE
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, today I’d like to take you to an op-ed piece written by George Will. It has to do with a situation that took place back in 2014 at Marquette University, which is a Jesuit school in Milwaukee. On October 28th of that year, an undergraduate course that Cheryl Abbate was teaching on ethics, when the subject of same-sex marriage arose, there was no debate because the students said the graduate student teacher insisted that there could be no defensible opposition to same-sex marriage.
This particular situation was recorded by this student and it was elevated to a gentleman named John McAdams, who was head over the department. He encouraged that there be debate on this issue. Although he, himself, took no particular position, his comments were then labeled as “hate speech” and then he was told he would be suspended for two semesters without pay.
COURT CASE: DEFERENCE OR DERELICTION?
DR. REEDER: He went to the court system. First of all, his contract on academic freedom which, by the way, included a statement by the university that no professor could have their constitutional rights abridged which is, by the way, freedom of speech and the free practice of religion.
The appeals court punted because they said, “Well, this is a private school so an academic institution can determine its own interpretation of its contract.” Well, certainly, elements of that are true, but you cannot abandon a contract and that’s why the court system is there to see have they abandoned their contract, not can they interpret it so that it becomes meaningless. And so they then deferred any consideration of the case.
Well, George Will did an editorial on it, Tom, and he made the point, “This was not judicial deference; this was judicial dereliction of duty.” That this is the kind of thing the court exists to do and his appeal was that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will not let this go unaddressed and that the appeal to the Supreme Court will be heard.
WHAT THIS MEAN FOR CHRISTIANS
What we want to do, of course, is take a look at this news event from a Christian world and life view which, first of all, this graduate student tells this tenured professor that he is a right-wing homophobe because he believes the issue of same-sex marriage ought to be debated. Basically, what you’re saying is anyone who has held to traditional marriage – which, by the way, for thousands of years, is what western civilization has built its entire civilization upon, a monogamous, covenantal, heterosexual marital foundation from which families are established and from which culture is upheld and culture is nurtured from generation to generation – so her position is that’s thousands of years of right-wing homophobic bigotry. That’s her position.
This professor is simply saying, “Wait just a minute. This is worthy of debate. Free speech ought to debate these things in a free society where sexual ethics are now being revolutionized to allow what would once have been unthinkable and declare it not only thinkable, but doable and normal, acceptable, and affirmed.
And now, anyone who opposes it can no longer be tolerated in the public square and so that certainly ought to be a matter of debate. And the court did not address the freedoms that would support that debate within this institution.
Now, let me first of all just say that this is a private institution. If they do not want anyone in their institution who represents traditional marriage, that’s their business.
I would only point out to people that Marquette is a Jesuit school which historically, by the way, was the most conservative order among the Roman Catholic priests and that the Jesuit school, by the dogma of the church, affirms marriage as one man, one woman for one life.
Therefore, it’s simply a university in which a professor is at least asking for a debate concerning the opposition to the Church’s position so you have both the freedom of speech and the free practice of religion at stake in this situation.
What we need to see is the sexual revolution is not going to take any prisoners. Even in a “religious” institution, they are demanding that anyone who holds to the historic Christian view of marriage – that is, again, covenantal, monogamous, heterosexual, conjugal relationship – is now not to be tolerated. Their view, it’s not that it is destroyed in debate – it is it can’t be a part of the debate.
CHRISTIANS, PREPARE TO DEBATE, NOT HIDE
Now what does that reveal? Well, that reveals that, folks, you’re not going to be able to hide in this sexual revolution – nobody is – and you’re going to have to make a determination if you are going to have a world and life view imposed upon you that is irrational and nonsensical or will you call for at least the debate of this sexual revolution in the public square and insist on the debate in the public square?
And the alternative is that we will return to the anarchy of pagan sexuality, which is what the same-sex marriage proposal is built upon and that is a society that recognizes no God-ordained distinctions in the society of male and female that is accommodated and embraced in the very definition of marriage.
ARE INSTITUTIONS UPHOLDING THEIR FOUNDATIONAL STANDARDS?
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, yesterday, we talked about the need for the federal government to bring together a Blue-Ribbon Panel to make wise financial decisions. What does this situation say about the Catholic Church and Marquette University hiring people to lead classes on ethics that totally go against the foundational mandates of the Catholic Church?
DR. REEDER: Should Marquette University, if they embrace the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church concerning marriage, should they hire people that support that or should they hire people that do not support that? Well, it’s clear that they ought to be hiring people that support that.
Can they have forums to debate their position? Yes. Can they invite people to debate it? Yes. But they ought to hire according to the framework of their world and life view.
Do you think Green Peace is going to hire people who believe that climate change is a hoax? Of course they’re not. Green Peace is not going to hire people who believe that climate change is a hoax – they’re going to hire people that believe climate change is a reality and that’s part of what we’re laboring for.
Well, part of Marquette, if it’s a Roman Catholic institution, should be to affirm its position on marriage. For instance, the PCA has a college, Covenant College, and I would expect them to hire people in that college that support our confessional standards.
And I also expect them to have people in to debate those things, but I would expect our faculty and administration to be able to uphold it in the debate and, of course, hire toward those standards. I would not expect us to hire an atheist. I would not expect us to hire a Mormon. I would expect us to hire within our standards that we have established the university to uphold and to propagate. That’s where Marquette is: They have hired outside of their standards and now they’re paying the price.
However, the point is the government ought to uphold the Constitutional standards that would protect this professor who is attempting, with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, to uphold the very standards of the university where he teaches.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin. Jessica is editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.