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Range of views on ‘academic freedom’ is solution, not problem

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, January 27, 2006

Though I understand Father Jenkins’ decision not to sponsor “The Vagina Monologues” or the Queer Film Festival on campus, I am truly disappointed. I am a 2004 graduate, attending Stanford Law School. During my time at Notre Dame, I never felt that my ideas (though they are markedly more liberal than those of the Catholic Church) could not be part of a dialogue that was open to the entire University. Although I understand that he is concerned with sponsoring events that directly go against Catholic teaching rather than censoring that material, I do not believe Father Jenkins would be serving the University community by limiting the ideas that can be presented formally on campus. Unlike racially inflammatory or anti-Semitic ideas, ideas about sexual morality differ widely, even among practicing Catholics. There is a great deal of value to exposing the University community to ideas that differ from Catholic teachings.

I am reminded of a passage by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Abrams v. United States in which he asserts, “[T]he ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas … [T]he best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market … [W]e should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loath and believe to be fraught with death.” Rather than not sponsor these events, it would be advantageous of the University to sponsor events that discuss sexual mores from Catholic teachings, and discuss issues that are challenging to those teachings (e.g. AIDS in Africa).

A better way to address concerns about preserving the Catholic character of Notre Dame might be presenting “The Vagina Monologues” or the Queer Film Festival as a part of a University symposium on the theology of the body and anthropological/sociological ideas about sex. I truly believe that the remedy to bad speech is more speech, not less. If Notre Dame truly wants to cling to its Catholic character, it will do well to provide a forum for views that differ from Catholic teachings.

Andrea Mankaalumnusclass of 2004Jan