Is Sandra Fluke a ‘social justice’ advocate?

Conservatives had quite a bit of fun with a Reno Gazette-Journal article that was originally headlined:

Fluke Takes Center Stage In Reno

The caption for the photo of Fluke that ran underneath the headline but before the copy said:

Sandra Fluke, a social justice advocate and campaign surrogate for Democratic President Barack Obama, speaks in Reno on Saturday.

Now, it turns out that taking “center stage” in Reno means that 10 (ten!) people showed up in the parking lot of the Sak ‘N’ Save in North Reno to hear her. Ten. Yes, the star of such puff pieces as the Washington Post‘s recent hagiography (“Sandra Fluke isn’t finished testifying“) drew a crowd of 10 people and the local paper promoted it in advance and headlined it as if to suggest the event was quite successful. This was why so many people noticed the less-than-stellar journalism of the Reno News-Gazette.

I didn’t even bother with the silly Post piece — it ran in their progressive cultural issues advocacy section called “Style.” But my favorite part was that it called the woman, who in her prime time Democratic National Convention speech accused Rep. Paul Ryan of trying to kill women (and I don’t mean figuratively!), “independent.” Isn’t that the word to use to describe Democratic partisans hoping other people will be forced against their religious objections to pay for birth control they oppose? I think it is, obviously, and good on the Washington Post for figuring out the right word in the piece to explain how Fluke was about to embark on this awesome campaign tour for President Barack Obama. Hurray! Journalism! (To be fair, I did learn some things from the praise piece, even religion-related news, such as that Fluke is the daughter of a Methodist minister.)

Anyway, rather than focus on the “takes center stage” part of the headline, which was changed at some point, or the rather tendentious language in the copy of the piece, I want to focus on something someone else picked up on. The Gannett paper there in Reno describes Fluke as a “social justice” advocate.

What does that mean? I mean, she’s known for almost nothing other than advocating for forced birth control subsidies and abortion on demand. How is that “social justice”? And why not just call her an advocate for government mandated birth control subsidies? Why the euphemism? Why the lack of clarity?

But even more than that, “social justice” is a term with specifically Roman Catholic connotations. That it would be used to describe a woman who specifically enrolled at a Jesuit law school with the express purpose of upending the school’s policy against subsidizing students’ birth control is odd, no? Her entire fame is due to her work against Catholic teaching in practice. I think journalists can pick a better term — and hopefully avoid the incorrect euphemism — here.

“Social justice” is a non-neutral term on a good day. It suggests that people who believe in achieving the same means in a different manner are for social “injustice.” We’d be wise to avoid the term in general. But it really should not be used to describe a woman whose entire fame is based on fighting on behalf of the federal government against Catholic charities and other religious groups.

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  • Mike

    While I think the label seems to be an odd way to describe Fluke–who has become a lightning rod in conservative circles, as your Ricochet post shows–I’m surprised by your assertion that “social justice” is a term that connotes Catholicism. Maybe that’s based on the hostility that the term elicits among Catholic trads, but “social justice” is a phrase used in secular progressive and religious left circles all the time with no reference to the Catholic pro-life/social justice battles. Social justice ministries are common in mainline Protestant churches, in Judaism, and of course in general liberal discourse.

    • mollie

      Yeah, the term “social justice” was coined by a Catholic and while it has spread to other religious communities and secular communities, it has a long history in Catholic social thought. I understand its meaning when defined according to Catholic teaching, but if it just means “progressive ideas,” I think we could agree more precision would be better for the media.

      • sari

        The reporter could have more accurately described Ms. Fluke, but how do we know that s/he chose his words to somehow defame Catholics? I daresay that few non-Catholics are familiar with the history of the term “social justice”. I wasn’t, though the concept seems to date from the prophets, who railed against social injustice and implored the Jewish People to care for their neighbors well before the inception of the Catholic Church. More to the point, meanings change with the times, and the origins of words and phrases are often lost to history. Should we expect reporters to research meanings alternative to those in common use? That seems a little unreasonable.

        “That it would be used to describe a woman who specifically enrolled at a Jesuit law school with the express purpose of upending the school’s policy against subsidizing students’ birth control is odd, no?”

        Did she explicitly state that she enrolled at Georgetown for this reason?

        • mollie

          Upon review, perhaps she merely said that she knew about Georgetown’s policy prior to enrolling and then led a three-year unsuccessful campaign to change it.

          • sari

            Universities have lots of policies, Mollie, some of which are more selectively enforced than others. You will encounter this, as your child(ren) mature, in every school s/he/they attend.

            Correlation does not imply causation. Matriculating into Georgetown Law, a highly prestigious institution, does not equate to choosing the university with the express purpose of adding family planning to the list of services provided. In fact, Fluke was quite clear that her friend’s dilemma, a purely medical problem which required contraceptives and for which she was denied, served as her initial impetus. Having encountered similar issues with Catholic run health institutions (a refused D&C for a failed pregnancy that refused to spontaneously abort and which could have been life-threatening), her friend’s story rings true -and- runs contradictory to the Catholic Church’s stated policy.

            Again, since this site speaks to honesty in journalism, that what’s written should be data-based and without commentary, can you provide a quote to substantiate your allegations? The articles you cited were biased, no question, but your post demonstrates exactly the same kind of bias, albeit in the opposite direction.

            [Editor: Since I can't "reply" to this comment, adding this here. Without addressing your off-topic confusion about Catholic teaching on DNCs vs. hormones for non-contraceptive purposes -- a discussion that is outside the scope of this blog, here's the Washington Post link which says that "Fluke came to Georgetown University interested in contraceptive coverage: She researched the Jesuit college’s health plans for students before enrolling, and found that birth control was not included." and then that Fluke "spent the past three years lobbying the administration to change its policy on the issue." So that's why I said it would be more accurate to say that she knew about the plan before enrolling and that she spent three years trying to get the policy changed. She says she chose Georgetown Law for the education.]

    • Ted Seeber

      Read Pope Leo XIII- Rerum Novarum. He was doing social justice LONG before the Protestants and Jews discovered it!

  • Ed Mechmann

    Free contraception proponent speaks to 10 people, gets positive press coverage. Religious liberty rallies across the nation (including one in Nevada) draw thousands (http://standupforreligiousfreedom.com/), to media silence. Journalism, or advocacy?

  • Ted Seeber

    If she’s a social justice advocate, why is she so bigoted against the unwanted, the unplanned, the unable, and the unfit?

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    Of course the liberal mainstream media has to obfuscate, spin, and mislabel when reporting on some stories. That is the only way many left-wing positions and politicians get any traction .

  • Martha

    To be fair to Ms. Fluke, I don’t think she enrolled at Georgetown with the primary purpose of challenging its Catholic identity, but rather because it was a prestigious university that would give her extra points on her C.V.

    In other words, she enrolled for the snob value. The social justice angle amuses me, but I don’t expect anything better from the newspapers. As for Ms. Fluke herself, I am cynical enough to think she’s the American version of Ivana Bacik, although her political career seems to be off to a less than dazzling start. But small steps at a time!

  • John M.

    I never knew that “social justice” was an actual theological concept in RCC history. It seemed to me to be a term that the MSM throws around like the rest of us should already know what it means (like “community organizer”). As best as I have been able to intuit from context, “social justice” seems to mean “give more power to politicians”.

    -John

  • Rick

    Here is a link to a recent, long, but comprehensive document: The Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching–http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html

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