Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wild Defends Award to Pro-Abortion Congressman Lewis

In the wake of the luncheon in which Marquette’s Aspin Center gave its “Democracy Award” to Congressman John Lewis (D. Ga), a member of the University community wrote Marquette President Robert Wild to complain.

Lewis has a strong pro-abortion voting record in Congress. Indeed, he has a liberal voting record on a variety of issues on which the Catholic Church has conservative positions.

But here is what Wild said:
From: “Wild S.J., Robert”
To: [Redacted]
Subject: FW: John Lewis Luncheon
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 09:00:11 -0500

I have received your message regarding our presenting Congressman John R. Lewis with the Les Aspin Center Democracy Award. I have been president here at Marquette for ten years and have thought a great deal about this question of having political leaders speak on our campus. Here is my general sense of things.

First, the individual you are complaining about is in fact an elected member of Congress, having served in the United States House of Representatives since 1987. A majority of the voters of the 5th District of Georgia have elected him to that post 10 times to date. Like it or not, this is our democratic process. Consequently, I believe there must be a general openness to the efforts of whatever administration is in power and, whatever else, a clear sense of civic respect for these individuals. That certainly does not mean agreement with all their positions and views but it does entail due regard for the democratic choices made by the voters of this nation. That’s the way it works in this country, and our democratic system, even granted its limitations, is decidedly held in admiration by much of the world community.
Why a Catholic university has to defer to the voters in any congressional district, or indeed in the entire nation, is a mystery.
Secondly, I most certainly do not have any problem with your choosing to disagree with some of positions advanced by Congressman Lewis and/or the Democratic Party. As a citizen of this country you most certainly have that right. And, further, because political leaders have to take a stance on a great array of issues, I assume that none of them are very likely to hold no position whatsoever that does not pose some problems in terms of the considered moral judgment of significant groups of people in this country or in terms of religious teaching, that of Roman Catholicism or of some other group. So if on that basis alone we would exclude a political leader from speaking on this campus, then on that same basis we had better exclude all of them. To put matters plainly, rare is the Democrat and rare the Republican who does not advance some position that poses moral and/or religious problems, e.g., the Iraq war on the Republican side, the pro-choice position on abortion taken by most Democrats.
But Lewis’ voting record, as recorded on the Issues 2000 web site, shows him to be opposed to the Catholic position not merely on some issue, but on a very wide range of issues.

For example, he:
  • Voted YES on allowing human embryonic stem cell research. (May 2005)
  • Voted NO on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions. (Apr 2005)
  • Voted NO on making it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime. (Feb 2004)
  • Voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother’s life. (Oct 2003)
  • Voted NO on forbidding human cloning for reproduction & medical research. (Feb 2003)
  • Voted NO on funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion info. (Sep 2002)
  • Voted NO on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad. (May 2001)
  • Voted NO on federal crime to harm fetus while committing other crimes. (Apr 2001)
  • Voted NO on banning partial-birth abortions. (Apr 2000)
  • Voted NO on barring transporting minors to get an abortion. (Jun 1999)
  • Rated 100% by NARAL, indicating a “pro-choice” voting record. (Dec 2003)
  • Voted NO on allowing vouchers in DC schools. (Aug 1998)
  • Voted NO on vouchers for private & parochial schools. (Nov 1997)
  • Voted NO on reducing Marriage Tax by $399B over 10 years. (Mar 2001)
  • Rated 7% by the Christian Coalition: an “anti-family” voting record. (Dec 2003)
  • Voted NO on banning physician-assisted suicide. (Oct 1999)
  • Voted NO on continuing military recruitment on college campuses. (Feb 2005)
  • Voted NO on eliminating the “marriage penalty.” (Jul 2000)
  • Voted NO on treating religious organizations equally for tax breaks. (Jul 2001)
  • Received a score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign, indicating complete agreement with a gay lobby agenda.
So Lewis is not a congressman who is good on some issues, and bad on others. On any issue having to do with abortion, homosexuality, family and the treatment of religious organizations, Lewis is hostile to Church teaching.

Wild continues:
To exclude all politicians, however, from speaking on this campus seems contrary both to the democratic values of this country and the four and a half centuries of efforts by Jesuit educators to form their students into individuals that will be engaged members of their respective civic communities. True, there may be specific individuals so identified with a highly problematic moral stance that one immediately identifies them with that specific issue. But such are rare, especially since most politicians in our democratic society necessarily must address a great variety of issues and cannot afford in the political arena in which they operate to be, equivalently, a “one issue” person. Conclusion: it should be rare here at Marquette that we would have sufficient reason on that side of things to deny a platform to a political leader, and all the more so to a senior official of our national government.
This argument is beside the point, and Wild ought to know that.

The issue is not whether people holding all kinds of views can speak on campus, but whether Marquette will honor certain people.
Third, we do need to be even handed in extending invitations to such leaders and most certainly should not limit our invitations to members of one major political party to the exclusion of members of the other. Our students and our entire Marquette community have a right to hear on occasion from members of both major political parties so that they become more aware of the issues that are at stake and can reflect more knowledgeably upon them.
Again, Wild evades the point.

And the issue is not whether members of only one party should be honored. There are plenty of Democrats who, for example, oppose abortion, or at least oppose partial birth abortion, and who favor treating religious organizations equally with secular organizations.
Fourth, I fully expect any time we invite a political figure to our campus that I will receive expressions of concern from a variety of people who legitimately disagree with this or that position held by that individual, and in that expectation I don’t think I have ever been disappointed. It is not at all unreasonable that in our democratic society there will arise such disagreements; that is the very nature of a democracy. Indeed, it should be a source of pride for all of us that we are free as a people to voice such disagreements. Yet at the same time the present polarization of our American political life, while hardly without parallel in this nation’s past history, is unfortunate in that many come to think in such an environment that political opponents are simply evil and political allies simply good. But my point is that things are not so “simple” since the vast majority of political leaders represent in their views a mixture of good and evil - like the men and women who elected them, like, in fact, you and I. Political leaders, that is, deserve our respect not only as fellow human beings but also specifically for the office they hold even while we remain quite free, as we should, to disagree with positions they seek to advance.
One wonders whether Wild, had he been President of Marquette in the 1960s, would have approved giving a major honor to a segregationist political figure. Would he blow the issue off by scoffing at the idea that some people are “simply evil?”

Or would he insist that some political positions really are evil, and Marquette should not honor people who hold them.

We all know the answer to that.
It is on this basis that I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that we should not have invited Congressman Lewis to this campus and with those who have written me in the past about the presence of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Vice President Al Gore, and a variety of Democratic and Republican political leaders on this campus. Their presence does not mean that the university as a body endorses the whole range of their political views or even any specific view. But since it is of the nature of a university-and that includes a Catholic university-to provide a privileged space in which a vast variety of issues can be discussed and debated, our campus ought generally to be open to such individuals as occasion offers.
Wild continues to not get the point. It’s one thing to be willing to hear a particular position advocated, and another for Marquette to honor somebody who holds a vast number of positions that the Church disagrees with.
There may be, as I noted above, individual exceptions to this, but this seems the right stance for Marquette University to adopt and it is the one that I personally share.

Let me also add that Marquette was honoring Congressman Lewis’ long-standing and tireless commitment to civil rights in our nation, not his position on abortion.
Nonsense. He was honored as a person.
Few can quarrel with the truly admirable work that Congressman Lewis has done in the field of civil rights.

Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns. Whether you agree with the perspective I am advancing here or not, I do hope that it helps you understand better Marquette’s position. I certainly pray that our loving and gracious God will bless you as you continue your studies.

Robert A. Wild, S.J.
Marquette University
It’s certainly the case that speakers of all persuasions should be able to speak at Marquette. But it’s in no way necessary for Marquette to honor people of all persuasions.

It’s doubtless prudent for the Aspin Center, which is dependent on the good will of both Democrats and Republicans, to honor both Democrats and Republicans.

But not all Democrats are at odds with Catholic teaching on so many issues.

But let’s be frank about the real reason for honoring Lewis. The luncheon at which Lewis was honored was a fundraiser for the Aspin Center.

To get in, an individual had to pay $100. But that was small potatoes. Businesses (and here we mean businesses wanting to curry favor with Congressman Lewis) were encouraged to pay $3,000 to be a “Bronze Sponsor,” $5,000 to be a “Silver Sponsor,” $10,000 to be a “Gold Sponsor,” or $15,000 to be a “Platinum Sponsor.”

All of these sponsorships included a table for eight people, although two of the seats at the table were reserved for Aspin Center students.

So what we have here is simply a crass way of raising money.

There is nothing unusual about crass behavior on the part of a university. Give enough money, and you can get a building named after you. Give enough money to a highly selective college, and your kid may get admitted, in spite of sub-par SAT scores.

But if Marquette is going to be crass, could it not be crass and honor somebody who isn’t in favor of partial-birth abortion?


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