Religious Liberty at George Washington University?

It was bound to happen eventually, and now — for the first time ever, as far as I know — this predictable little drama is unfolding, and it is doing so in our nation’s capital. According to the GW Hatchet, two homoerotically-inclined seniors at George Washington University have launched a campaign to drive the university’s Catholic chaplain from the hallowed halls of GW.

The priest in question, who has served as the GW Catholic chaplain for the last five years, is purportedly guilty of the unforgivable crime of upholding the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. That, at least, is the charge being lodged by Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen. They “say they have left the Newman Center in the last several years because Father Greg Shaffer’s strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views are too polarizing,” and they “plan to file a formal complaint with the University and hold prayer vigils outside the Newman Center until Shaffer is removed.”

Legacy and Bergen will deliver a letter this week to top administrators including University President Steven Knapp, citing academic studies that link harmful psychological effects, like the inability to sleep and loss of appetite, with being around homophobic behavior.

GW’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion is already reviewing the case, after Legacy submitted a report last semester that outlined how other schools vet religious leaders before bringing them to campus.

New York University approves all religious affiliates by reviewing backgrounds, credentials and letters of recommendation from the faith community, as well as qualifications that indicate they can work with college-aged students. Legacy said GW would benefit from a similar system.

Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed declined to comment on specifics about the report, saying that her office is in the “early stages of a review” of the Multicultural Student Services Center, which oversees religious life, “so it is premature to speak about the possibility or feasibility of any changes.”

Aside from the appeal to GW, Legacy and Bergen will also send letters to D.C.’s Roman Catholic archdiocese, who heads the Church for the entire District and is responsible for choosing priests’ assignments.

Legacy will also ask the Student Association to defund the Newman Center as part of the SA’s annual allocations process to organizations April 15. This year, the Newman Center received $10,000 from the SA, which divvies up funds from a budget accumulated through student fees.

Earlier this semester, the SA Senate passed a bill that allows the finance committee to dock a third of a group’s budget if the University finds a group is discriminatory or harasses individuals. The GW Catholics – based out of the Newman Center – have not been found to be either, but Legacy and Bergen said the bill could bolster their argument.

According to Legacy, who was apparently at one time a regular mass-goer at the chaplaincy, what Father Shaffer does, in fact, is to advise “students who are attracted to members of the same sex to remain celibate for the rest of their lives.” Shaffer also reportedly counsels students against abortion, and I would be willing to bet that he advises those who are heterosexually inclined to refrain from sex until they are married.

It will be exceedingly interesting to see what happens at GW. At least among liberals, it is now an accepted doctrine that all human beings have a right “to express their sexuality.” If the outlook alluded to by this euphemism becomes normative, as is likely to happen, will those in authority be willing to tolerate those who dissent from these new norms and deny that any such right exists? I think not. I would like to believe that Steven Knapp would seize upon these developments as an occasion for reasserting the principles of academic and religious liberty. I would like to think that he would summarily and contemptuously dismiss the complaint that Legacy and Bergen intend to lodge. I would like to think that he would set a precedent for other university presidents to follow. But I have trouble imagining the President of George Washington University or of any similar institution (especially one with “a Provost for Diversity and Inclusion”) doing anything of the sort. Backbone and moral leadership are not qualities for which today’s university presidents are famous.

If things keep drifting in the direction in which they are rapidly drifting now, Catholics and other Christians and Jews who adhere to the traditional Judeo-Christian moral teaching are going to be marginalized, then persecuted. I foresee a day when the tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic Church will be yanked because it resolutely refuses to ordain women, because it condemns abortion as murder, and because it refuses to condone sex outside a marriage open to procreation. I foresee a day when priests will be fined or imprisoned for articulating in sermons and counseling sessions the teaching of the Church. I foresee a day when similar punishment will be visited on Protestants and Jews who assert the traditional teaching of their faiths. This is, after all, the sort of thing that happens in Canada now. How can one tolerate those who deny others’ rights?

As those of you who have read what I have had to say on related subjects in the past already know, I believe that, by soft-pedaling its opposition to abortion and by enthusiastically embracing the administrative entitlements state, the American Catholic Church has asked for the treatment now in store for it. But the folly of the Catholic hierarchy in this country and the corruption that beset it in the all too recent past does nothing to obviate the horror of what is to come. What is happening at GW is a straw in the wind.

  1. Douglas

    “… hold prayer vigils”

    To who? Old Scratch?

  2. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Douglas: “… hold prayer vigils”

    To who? Old Scratch? · 6 minutes ago

    If I remember correctly, Legacy claims now to be a priest in the Old Catholic Church. I am not sure whom they worship

  3. Western Chauvinist

    Yes, we’re about to find out just how committed to liberty the “libertarians” and “liberals” are. And maybe a few RINO squishes too.

  4. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    KC Mulville: This part is just laughable:

    “Legacy and Bergen will deliver a letter this week to top administrators including University President Steven Knapp, citing academic studies that link harmful psychological effects, like the inability to sleep and loss of appetite, with being around homophobic behavior.”

    So, my lack of approval will cause you to lose sleep and appetite? 

    That’s hilarious.  · 5 hours ago

    These sorts of arguments are nonetheless the wave of the future.

  5. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Joseph Eagar: So basically, this student is trying to use politics to oust a Catholic priest for being mean to him?  Reading between the lines, it does sound like this priest’s alleged jerkisness is the motivating issue, not his views on human sexuality per se. · 4 hours ago

    If you read the article in the GW student newspaper as a whole, it looks as if the priest is well-liked by the other students and not a jerk at all. He is merely firm in counseling sessions about the teaching of the Church.

  6. James Lileks
    C

    “At least among liberals, it is now an accepted doctrine that all human beings have a right “to express their sexuality.” If they’re consenting adults and don’t frighten the horses, I don’t care if they do. But somehow it’s now accepted doctrine that having an opinion about other people’s actions in variance with their own opinions about themselves suppresses expression. 

  7. Nathan Leberknight
    A Protestant minister I follow on Twitter summed up our current trajactory this way, and I couldn’t put it better: “Same sex marriage is not what some folks will be allowed to do in private, but rather what you will be allowed to say about it in public.” 

    We’re seeing the institutionalization of the sexual revolution. No matter how gracious, generous, and civil people may be in their public opposition to this wretched development, they will routinely be denounced as haters. I’m afraid your predictions will be confirmed, Prof. Rahe. If millions in our society become, and indeed are, unpersuadable, what will it take to begin serious course correction?

  8. Mendel
    Western Chauvinist: Yes, we’re about to find out just how committed to liberty the “libertarians” and “liberals” are. 

    I am somewhat torn, but not over the religious freedom question per se.

    The bigger problem is that we really don’t know where universities fit in society anymore: are they public/private partnerships everyone has a say in, are they independent non-profits which are still hallowed embodiments of our communities, or are they profit-seeking businesses free to please their customers as they see fit?

    Right now, most univerisities exist as an unhealthy mixture of all three, which makes these kinds of problems unsolvable.  Let’s cut off as much funding from private universities as possible, and let them figure these questions out themselves.

    If a university were run as a fully private institution, then let it welcome or ban churches as it sees financially beneficial.  

  9. T-Fiks

    Modern-day disestablishment still frightens the old guard among the Catholic hierarchy. Our priest, for example, still holds on to the idea that the church and the state can be partners in advancing some parts of the gospel–even after acknowledging Obama’s health care betrayal.

  10. Mark

    I do not consider myself a social conservative but events in the past few years are making me much more sympathetic to them and more aware that what is happening impacts all of us.

    Twenty years ago I would have said that your paragraph predicting a future where the state dominates religion was overly paranoid.  Today, I fear it may be true.

    I don’t agree with the Catholic Church on contraception and its sexual teachings but if we don’t stand with them on religious liberty grounds we are all going to be in trouble down the road.

    You are correct that the naivety of religious leaders has created a trap for them.  They fail to distinguish between good works done voluntarily and those forced upon people.  They have been unable to distinguish between “feeling good” policy initiatives and the nuts and bolts of legislation and how it can empower progressives to impose their beliefs upon others.

    It is also why a “truce” on social issues is impossible because progressives will always be the aggressors – they will not stop because it is inherent in their theory of governance.  Like it or not this is a fight that will continue.

  11. The Mugwump
    They “say they have left the Newman Center in the last several years because Father Greg Shaffer’s strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views are too polarizing  . . . ” 

    Yes, indeed, why are concepts like good and evil so irksomely polarizing?  If we would all just agree to believe in nothing, there wouldn’t be anything to fight about, right?  This incident is a good example of how a society turns to mush when it loses its moorings.  

  12. Nick Stuart
    Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said it well when he outlined the degree to which he believed religious freedoms (in the United States and other Western societies) were endangered. After the passage of legislation that enabled Civil Unions in Illinois, his eminence stated: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

    We Protestant will just sing louder to drown out the sound of the trains, like we’ve done since Roe v. Wade.

  13. Innocent Smith
    ~Paules

    They “say they have left the Newman Center in the last several years because Father Greg Shaffer’s strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views are toopolarizing . . . ” 

    Yes, indeed, why are concepts like good and evil so irksomely polarizing?  If we would all just agree to believe in nothing, there wouldn’t be anything to fight about, right?  This incident is a good example of how a society turns to mush when it loses its moorings.

    Exactly.  Funny that we now believe there is a moral authority higher than the Church, to whom we can complain when the Church has the audacity to do anything other than affirm our current behavior.

    I too, Dr. Rahe, find myself continually writing about the dangers of placation regarding this sort of thing (and the expansion of state authority) simply because you happen to be pro-gay or pro-abortion … the slippery slope is sometimes a logical fallacy, but with the US Government, I hesitate to give that mouse a cookie.

  14. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    James Lileks: “At least among liberals, it is now an accepted doctrine that all human beings have a right “to express their sexuality.” If they’re consenting adults and don’t frighten the horses, I don’t care if they do. But somehow it’s now accepted doctrine that having an opinion about other people’s actions in variance with their own opinions about themselves suppresses expression.  · 27 minutes ago

    Your view is pretty close to mine. What people do in private I do not care to inquire.

  15. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Tim Fikse: Modern-day disestablishment still frightens the old guard among the Catholic hierarchy. Our priest, for example, still holds on to the idea that the church and the state can be partners in advancing some parts of the gospel–even after acknowledging Obama’s health care betrayal. · 17 minutes ago

    You put your finger on the problem. The Catholic Church has not yet fully come to grips with modernity. In consequence, it mistakes welfare for charity, and it grants the state a scope that threatens the independence of the church.

  16. Western Chauvinist
    Mendel

    Western Chauvinist: Yes, we’re about to find out just how committed to liberty the “libertarians” and “liberals” are. 

    I am somewhat torn, but not over the religious freedom question per se.

    The bigger problem is that we really don’t know where universities fit in society anymore: are they public/private partnerships everyone has a say in, are they independent non-profits which are still hallowed embodiments of our communities, or are they profit-seeking businesses free to please their customers as they see fit?

    Right now, most univerisities exist as an unhealthy mixture of all three, which makes these kinds of problems unsolvable.  Let’s cut off as much funding from private universities as possible, and let them figure these questions out themselves.

    If a university were run as a fully private institution, then let it welcome or ban churches as it sees financially beneficial. 

    You’re a very pleasant fellow, Mendel. But, you have a bad habit of projecting your own decency onto our opposition on the Left. Do you really imagine that this imposition on conscience and religious teaching will be contained within the campus boundaries?

  17. Tommy De Seno
    C
    Paul A. Rahe

    Douglas: “… hold prayer vigils”

    To who? Old Scratch? · 6 minutes ago

    If I remember correctly, Legacy claims now to be a priest in the Old Catholic Church. I am not sure whom they worship · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    The prayer vigil is to get the Lord’s help to fire someone.  That sounds a little Old Testament.  I don’t think Jesus would approve.

    Maybe they are praying to Donald Trump.

  18. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Mark:  . . .

    Twenty years ago I would have said that your paragraph predicting a future where the state dominates religion was overly paranoid.  Today, I fear it may be true.

    I don’t agree with the Catholic Church on contraception and its sexual teachings but if we don’t stand with them on religious liberty grounds we are all going to be in trouble down the road.

    You are correct that the naivety of religious leaders has created a trap for them.  They fail to distinguish between good works done voluntarily and those forced upon people.  They have been unable to distinguish between “feeling good” policy initiatives and the nuts and bolts of legislation and how it can empower progressives to impose their beliefs upon others.

    It is also why a “truce” on social issues is impossible because progressives will always be the aggressors – they will not stop because it is inherent in their theory of governance.  Like it or not this is a fight that will continue. · 35 minutes ago

    All true, alas…

  19. Mendel
    Western Chauvinist

    Mendel

    Western Chauvinist: Yes, we’re about to find out just how committed to liberty the “libertarians” and “liberals” are. 

     Do you really imagine that this imposition on conscience and religious teaching will be contained within the campus boundaries? 

    Two responses:

    - Of course students who want to mold religion to their own taste will do so in the outside world as well.  But that doesn’t make it wise for us to overstep our case by bringing the fight into a private institution.  I would rather cut losses on private campuses and strengthen for the fight against churches in the more public realm.

    - Adding onto that point, colleges in America have become such backward cesspools that I think we need to let them suffer the consequences of their own decisions.  If parents really want to fork over $40,000 a year for their kids to drink, screw, and spit on religion, let them – and let them keep paying when those same kids wind up living at home.

  20. KC Mulville
    Paul A. Rahe

    These sorts of arguments are nonetheless the wave of the future. 

    Can’t help but wonder if your appeal to Aristotle, and his recent popularity, coincides with this phenomenon of absurd argument. Maybe, people were going back to him because Aristotle is the cultural referee of sound and effective argument.

    Especially with the rise of deceptive advertising and political campaigning … our culture has lost the edge when it comes to reason and rhetoric. Rhetoric used to be a noble and prestigious study.

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