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Saxa Politica: Free speech applies to all
When William Blatty (COL ’50) accused Georgetown of acceding to “intolerant orthodoxies,” I, like most of my peers, shrugged it off. Recently, though, I was forced to reconsider.
In the last two weeks, groups of LGBTQ students protested two events hosted by Love Saxa, a student group devoted to fighting the hook-up culture and promoting “traditional” marriage. On Oct. 3, the group invited sociologist Mark Regnerus to speak at a talk entitled “The Mating Market: Current dynamics, sex-ratio imbalances, and their consequences for young adults.” While sounding perfectly mundane, some pro-gay activists attended the event not because they had a problem with the subject matter of the talk itself, but because they didn’t want the University to invite the speaker.
Regnerus was the author of a 2012 study which found that children of parents who have same-sex relationships fare worse than children of opposite-sex marriages by some metrics. While the study was both flawed and limited in scope, he took pains in the conclusion to stress that his findings did not imply causality. Regnerus has acknowledged that the differences he found could be a result of the small sample of committed same-sex couples in the study.
One of the organizers of the protest cited Regnerus’s “prejudicial opinions” as a reason why Love Saxa shouldn’t have invited him. As a professor at the University of Texas, a prominent family researcher, and a public intellectual, Regnerus was preeminently qualified to speak on the subject of “the mating market.” As for his “prejudicial opinions,” he does oppose gay marriage. But so does virtually every Republican politician coming to speak on campus. So does the Catholic Church.
It doesn’t matter that Regnerus has written many articles that clarify the results of his study in order to counter the frequent misrepresentation of its conclusion in mass media, or that he went on the record to denounce a Russian politician who cited his study in reference to a law that would separate gay or lesbian parents from their children. An academic community requires freedom of expression to explore controversial issues in an honest way. Ideas that were considered morally repugnant 100 years ago are now commonly accepted. Without a chance for fringe thinkers to air their ideas in a public forum, old orthodoxies can’t be dismantled, and no one’s thinking can be challenged.
When Blatty references “intolerant orthodoxies,” I can only think of this misguided tendency to reject speakers because they espouse conservative beliefs, which are, in fact, often thoroughly Catholic. He has a point: When Kathleen Sebelius was invited to speak on campus, she didn’t receive a letter from over 90 faculty and staff members calling her political positions un-Catholic like Paul Ryan did, even though her positions are at least equally counter to Catholic doctrine.
Under no circumstance should an unpopular political stance be considered grounds for not inviting a speaker to campus. In fact, we should listen to every bigot and hypocrite who comes here and proceed to tear apart their arguments in questioning. If they’re wrong, we should be able to show why they’re wrong. And, if students think a speaker is reprehensible, they can protest outside, which is exactly what that group of pro-gay activists did.
Georgetown should even let someone like Ryan Anderson speak on campus. A Heritage Foundation fellow and the closest thing to a millennial leader in the fight against LGBTQ rights, Anderson espouses beliefs that many students find offensive. He’s publicly said that gay and lesbian couples make worse parents. He’s invested a significant amount of work into fighting same-sex marriage, which I consider to be a matter of civil rights.
When he came to campus on Oct. 8, GU Pride organized a protest of the event, which dozens of students attended. In the question-and-answer period, students grilled Anderson for failing to explain how same-sex couples are different from infertile straight couples, for failing to account for numerous studies showing that same-sex couples make excellent parents, and for relying on antiquated sexual norms. The event sparked a spirited discussion that probably served to convince people that Anderson was wrong more than anything else. The controversy likely increased event turnout significantly.
Forcing students to articulate their own beliefs and to pose challenges to people they disagree with is central to the University’s mission of educating its students. When deciding who to invite to campus, administrators and group leaders should ask one question: “Does this person have something interesting to say?”
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