Monday, May 02, 2016

Letter to Lovell: Gay Marriage Can Be Discussed

President Michael R. Lovell
Office of the President
Marquette University
1250 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53233

Dear President Lovell:

I have read with dismay the controversy at Marquette University over the question of whether a student can raise objections or even discuss the question of same-sex marriage at your university. The claim of the teaching assistant, Ms. Abbate, is that some gay student may be upset if the issue is discussed. Her position was challenged by Prof. McAdams and he is the one who got suspended. Sir, you have suspended the wrong person. This is especially ironic since the Catholic Church has been and is vocally opposed to same-sex marriage.

The reasoning here is faulty: Are you allowed to object to abortion at Marquette, knowing that a feminist might be unhappy? The typical tactic of the left—the left that has captured the humanities at most American universities—is not to debate issues, but to intimidate and silence those whose views do not align with theirs. It is not a question of arguing against those with a different position, it is a matter of silencing them.

I will quote your mission statement because it is so relevant here:
As a Catholic university, we are committed to the unfettered pursuit of truth under the mutually illuminating powers of human intelligence and Christian faith. Our Catholic identity is expressed in our choices of curricula, our sponsorship of programs and activities devoted to the cultivation of our religious character, our ecumenical outlook, and our support of Catholic beliefs and values. Precisely because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive, we are open to all who share our mission and seek the truth about God and the world, and we are firmly committed to academic freedom as the necessary precondition for that search. We welcome and benefit enormously from the diversity of seekers within our ranks, even as we freely choose and celebrate our own Catholic identity.
I am a graduate of [redacted] and have been teaching at a large state university for the past 48 years. I teach an Introduction to Moral Philosophy course each semester. We discuss these four topics: Abortion, Euthanasia, Death Penalty, and Sex and Marriage. We read philosophers and analyze Supreme Court decisions on each of these topics. With respect to same-sex marriage, we read Goodridge v Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the first state supreme court decision overturning the Massachusetts prohibition of same-sex marriage, both the majority opinion and the dissenting opinion of Justice Martha Sosman who gives vigorous objection to the majority opinion and defends marriage as between a man and a woman. We also read Bowers v Hardwick in which the U. S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Georgia statutes criminalizing homosexual sodomy. Then, we read a later case, Lawrence v Texas in which Justice Blackmun’s dissent in Bowers became the majority opinion in Lawrence. This case overturned Texas’ statute banning homosexual sodomy.

I put in this detail because I have never had a gay or lesbian student, or any other student, object to the open and spirited debate over abortion, marriage, sex, or social arrangements. In other words, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and sex and marriage can and should be discussed in a university ethics class. Most ethics textbooks have chapters on these topics.

Going to a university, especially a Catholic university, should never mean that you will not hear things you do not agree with or things which may challenge your views or things that may even hurt your feelings. Do you admit Protestant students? How do they feel when Catholic doctrine is taught? A university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, where we challenge each other to give reasons and use persuasion, all done in a civil manner. Someone in your administration or even you yourself should instruct Ms. Abbate the meaning of free speech, academic freedom, and the purpose of a university. Better yet, have her read your University Mission Statement. Do not give in to the totalitarianism of controlling speech under the guise that someone may have his or her feelings hurt or that any speech that does not accord with the catechism of the politically correct is “hate speech.” It is hard for me to believe that I can teach things and allow arguments in a state university that are forbidden in a Catholic university, especially when the forbidden discussions are in accord with Catholic doctrine.

Best wishes,

[Name Withheld]

[The writer notes that he does “not want to be dragged personally into the New Spanish Inquisition.”]
In fact, it is perfectly plausible that a large state university might be more open to a discussion of diverse ideas about sexuality than the nominally Catholic Marquette, just as places like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A & M have more vital Catholic ministries than does Marquette.

There is a particular type of parochialism that afflicts the secularized “Catholic” institutions, but it it not Catholic parochialism. It’s the parochialism that believes it has right to enforce an orthodoxy by authoritarian top-down means. But it’s not a Catholic orthodoxy being enforced, but rather secular political correctness.

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