Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Gays and Snipers

When Marquette University refused to recognize the Human Rights Campaign (a gay lobby group) as a student organization, this created controversy. One statement opposing Marquette’s action came from Law School faculty member Scott Moss.

We wrote Moss to ask what he thought about Marqutte’s actions in shutting down the College Republicans’ “Adopt a Sniper” fundraising table. This was, of course, a test of consistency. Would he equally favor free expression coming from the political right? The following is his response:

Yes, the analogy occurred to me between (A) shutting down the “sniper” fundraiser and (B) rejecting the “human rights campaign” gay rights student group. There are real similarities but real differences too.

The main difference is that “(A)” was a rejection of one event by a student group, but “(B)” was a rejection of a whole student group. The exact analogy would be a shutdown of the Republican student group because (as OSD said about the “human rights campaign”), “While some of the [group’s] activities and causes . . . are certainly worthy and compatible with Marquette’s own statement on human dignity and diversity, other issues . . . are inimical to Catholic teaching.” So I think (B) is much more egregious and dangerous than (A). (A) says, “if we don’t like something your group does, we’ll shut that thing down;” (B) says, “if we don’t like something your group does, we’ll shut your whole group down.” (B) is the free speech death penalty; you don’t get to exist if we convict you of dissent.

Personally, I was offended by the “sniper” fundraiser, not because it supported snipers but because the inscriptions seemed to glorify remorseless killing rather than view war and killing as unfortunate, even if justified. You don’t see Bob Dole or John McCain or John Kerry -- people who really know war and death -- glorifying killing like that.

But were I running a university, I would not shut down a particular event like the “sniper” fundraiser simply because it was contrary to my values or what I saw as my university’s values. I think that to run a university is to run a forum for the widest possible array of viewpoints. Marquette has the legal “right” to choose not to be that kind of open forum -- but as William Safire memorably wrote, “the right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.” By excluding ideas on a selective basis, Marquette acts within its “rights” but does its students and their education a real disservice.

We disagree with Moss on a number of grounds. In the first place, the inscription at which he took offense (“1 Shot, 1 Kill, No Remorse, I Decide”) doesn’t really glorify killing. It’s a bit of macho bravado, certainly, but nothing about it is really immoral. It describes what snipers really do, and aspire to. Further, it’s not something the College Republicans dreamed up, it’s an actual snipers’ motto. We would be surprised if neither Dole nor McCain nor Kerry had any soldiers in their units sporting similar slogans. These are men doing a tough, exacting, dangerous job, and a bit of macho bravado can be forgiven, given their service to their country.

On the issue of student organizations, Moss’ argument is that Marquette should recognize each and every student organization, and then hold open the option of outlawing some specific event that runs contrary to Marquette’s Catholic mission. This would suggest, for example, that an anti-Semite group should be approved. When it brought in a speaker to criticize the foreign policy of Israel (a legitimate topic) that would be approved, while a speaker who did nothing but incite hatred of Jews would be disapproved.

We think that the agenda of some organizations taints them. An anti-Semite group is still an anti-Semite group. Note that University “recognition” involves tangible University support: office space at the Union, the right to apply for funds to use to bring in speakers, and so on. In the case of the gay lobby, they are particularly tainted by their campaign of persecution against Christian organizations (the Boy Scouts for example) who insist on policies that run contrary to the “gay rights” agenda. They have been using the courts and the law to punish Christian organizations for conforming their policies to Christian views about sexuality.

Note also that the refusal to recognize a particular student group doesn’t prevent certain opinions from being heard: from faculty, from other student groups (including two gay lobby groups), in the pages of the Tribune, and indeed in the mainstream media.

However, credit Moss with at least gross consistency in his positions on the “Gay” and the “Snipers” issues. He has done far better than either the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel or the Marquette Tribune here.

And he raises a very serious issue. We have long viewed Student Development’s power to approve student organizations and events as an onerous burden, hard to use consistently and embarrassing when used inconsistently. Our tentative conclusion is that this is better than either of the alternatives, which would be (1.) to have Student Development approve everything, or (2.) to have them approve nothing at all. But “everything” isn’t an absurd position to take.

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