Saturday, March 28, 2009

Our Very Own Madrasas

Tim Rutten has an unusually emotional column in today's Los Angeles Times. Mr. Rutten is usually much less confrontational in print and this piece is actually very close to a rant. It's also right on target.

His subject is the controversy being ginned up by ultra-conservative Catholic groups over the selection of President Obama as the commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame. New presidents are traditionally invited to speak at the university's graduation, and most accept. Yet, because President Obama is pro-choice and has removed his predecessor's restrictions on stem cell research, certain elements within the country's Roman Catholic population are pushing to have the invitation withdrawn for the president's lack of moral purity.

There are a couple of things about this culture-warfare-as-usual controversy that are fresh and consequential enough to be of interest. The first is the protesters and their connections. Many are part of a vocal, Internet-savvy lobby that has been agitating to coerce the church's prelates into denying Communion to Catholic officeholders who deviate from a rigidly "pro-life" line. Made up of a number of smaller groups, this lobby has campaigned to keep other pro-choice officeholders (of any religion) from speaking at Catholic schools. Its supporters also have been vociferously active in the movement to use abortion as a wedge to lever Catholics into the religious right. ...

The principal organizer of the Notre Dame protest is a group called the Cardinal Newman Society -- no, they're not the people who ran the Newman Centers you may recall from your college campus. This bunch came together in 1992 to enforce more stringent orthodoxy at American Catholic universities. ...

The Newman Society is linked to two organizations -- and the Fidelis Center -- whose programs are clearly geared toward bringing Catholics into the Republican Party.

Two vigorous spokesmen for the protest have been Southern California talk-show host Hugh Hewitt and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who converted from evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism about four years ago. "The faithful Catholic world is justly enraged at the treachery of Notre Dame's leadership," Terry said. "Notre Dame will rue the day they invited this agent of death to speak."

Some people just won't be happy until the Inquisition has office space again and kindling is being piled up around the local stakes.
[Emphasis added]

Fortunately, there has been some push-back by other Catholics, and their response is quite telling:

...The publisher of the influential National Catholic Reporter newspaper has accused the Newman Society of trying to turn the church's universities into "Catholic madrasas." Father John Jenkins, the university's president, has said he has no intention of withdrawing the invitation made to Obama, whom he called "an inspiring leader."

According to Notre Dame's campus newspaper, student reaction to the invitation has been overwhelmingly positive, though the paper reports an interesting split: 70% of the letters it has received from alumni oppose the president's appearance, while 73% of current students and 97% of the graduating seniors approve of the invitation.

It seems that GOP activists are going to have to look elsewhere -- and to another generation -- for their single-issue voters.

Now, I would be the first to accede to the proposition that these groups have every right to protest the selection of any speaker at the university. I know I'd be terribly upset if Notre Dame had invited the holocaust-denying Bishop instead of President Obama. If they had, either Ruth or I would have blasted the selection here. But I don't think we have a right to impose our will in an arena where open inquiry is supposed to be the goal. Free speech has to be free and heard, especially at a university.

What Mr. Rutten objects to, and I agree with him, is that these groups are trying to close down that free speech entirely in order to benefit a particular political party. That's a little different. It's also an abomination.

And Mr. Rutten? More like this, please.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

bring back the lions!

seriously...let's give the mackerel snappers something to whine about...

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately most of the secular population wishes to view this in a politican protest arena. Would you dare to question the dogma and sanctity of other religions such as Muslim, Hebrew, and any other religious groups that live by their values and are not afraid to voice their concern or determination to stand and honor their religious commitment. As a Catholic I am fighting as a "soldier of Christ" and will not allow anyone to condemn our right to voice our beliefs. If this this was of interest to the ACLU I am sure you would hear all sorts of condemnation for our principles and our strength to speak out against "Mr. Obama". He clearly has chosen to disrespect our religious commitment and beliefs that life begins at conception with a soul and was created by GOD. REMEMBER SIR... WOULD YOU DARE TO QUESTION A MUSLIM OR HEBREW DOCTRINE?

7:30 AM  

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