Freedoms should trump feelings

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL

Heavy-handed, mushy-headed responses to real-life problems teach students victimhood rather than citizenship and do little to foster a climate of civil debate necessary for a free society.

Thanks to the circumspect nature of the nominees and the short attention spans of their interrogators, Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court vacancies have become some of our republic's most tedious affairs. Yet, every once in awhile, even a non-responsive response from a would-be justice reveals something significant about the mysterious figure seeking a lifetime appointment to our highest court.

That happened last week, during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was questioning the former dean of Harvard Law School about her decision to bar military recruiters because she believed the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy against open homosexuality violated Harvard's anti-discrimination policy. Following that line of logic, Graham asked, would Kagan's decision also apply to recruiters from the Catholic Church, since the church does not allow women to be ordained priests?

Kagan's answer, if you could call it that, was to offer an impromptu recitation of Harvard's policy against discrimination on the basis of, as she put it, "race and creed and gender and sexual orientation and actually veterans' status as well." If recruiters agree to abide by that policy, they're in, Kagan said. "And if not, not."

Graham did not follow up on the inquiry, but he should have. Kagan's evasion only begged his original question: What do you do when non-discrimination policies of more recent vintage conflict with the freedoms of religion, speech or assembly that our Founding Fathers considered fundamental human rights?

The question is not merely academic. Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a California law school to demand that a Christian student group seeking official campus recognition accept leaders who openly reject its statement of faith. Authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 5-4 decision paves the way for schools to effectively prohibit socially conservative religious students from forming official campus alliances because their traditional sexual morality conflicts with campus non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito blasted the decision because it "arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups."

"I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today's decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country," Alito wrote. "... Even those who find [the Christian student group's] views objectionable should be concerned about the way the group has been treated."

The decision was the latest in a series of strikes against a conviction once deeply rooted in the American psyche: that it's better to be free to shout my beliefs from the rooftops and run the risk of being offended when my loudmouth neighbor does the same than for both of us to be forced into polite silence by Uncle Sam.

In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito blasted the decision because it "arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups."

That belief used to go without saying in our liberty-loving nation, but no more. With the rise of hate-crimes legislation and hate-speech monitoring, it's not hard to imagine that someday soon we may follow the lead of thin-skinned nations like France, which passed a law last month against "psychological violence." The law makes it a crime to insult another person in a way that could "degrade one's quality of life and cause a change to one's mental or physical state."

Or perhaps we will be tempted to copy Britain, which has begun creating school-based "hate registers" to track children accused of employing 'sexist, sexual and transphobic" putdowns in their playground banter. The British government is mulling a plan that would make it mandatory for schools to record such insults and report them to police, so a child as young as 5 who utters the wrong sort of slur even if he has no idea what it means could be monitored for future infractions and have the incident immortalized on his school record.

Such heavy-handed, mushy-headed responses to real-life problems teach students victimhood rather than citizenship and do little to foster a climate of civil debate necessary for a free society. That the woman likely to become our next Supreme Court justice could not bring herself to publicly side with the First Amendment over political correctness in Graham's test case is a worrisome sign that America soon may be traveling down Europe's touchy-feely slope toward soft despotism.

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Colleen Carroll Campbell. "Freedoms should trump feelings." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (July 8, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

THE AUTHOR

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and former presidential speechwriter. Author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell writes a weekly op-ed column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, blogs on religion and politics for The New York Times and The Washington Post, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television and radio show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network. Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.