Super Bowl party policy reversed

big screen TV in churchChurches throughout the country have been given permission by the great and mighty National Football League to use their big screens during next year’s Super Bowl. The concession seems to come after pressure exerted by some national lawmakers (think anti-trust exemption and federal control over the airways) backed up by big newspaper stories.

Here is The Washington Post‘s Jacqueline Salmon reveling in the news pages over the change of policy after the reporter published a big front page takeout on the subject earlier this month:

The NFL, which found itself on the receiving end of protests and controversy after it objected to churches showing the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions, has reversed course and will now permit the viewings.

In a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would not object to “live showings — regardless of screen size — of the Super Bowl” by religious organizations.

In response to questions from Hatch, Goodell said in the letter, dated Feb. 19, the NFL will implement the policy starting with next year’s Super Bowl.

A story in The Washington Post about churches — most of them evangelical — canceling their Super Bowl parties because they were afraid of lawsuits from the NFL if they showed the game on their jumbo screens kicked up a storm of protest on Capitol Hill and among some conservative leaders.

Is the reporter trying to claim in the lead that its stories put the NFL on the wrong end of the debate? Just curious.

As Terry pointed out, this was not a battle between the big bad corporate National Football League and all churches. This was a battle between conservative churches and the big bad corporate National Football League. Is it any coincidence that the senators raising the issue are all members of the Republican Party?

The National Football Association in a letter to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has agreed to let religious organizations televise the Super Bowl for their congregations on any size television.

Hatch and other senators were outraged by a story in the Washington Post that indicated the NFL objected to churches showing their big game, especially on big screens. Some churches canceled their Super Bowl parties because they were worried about lawsuits.

After the story ran, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., proposed a bill that would give churches the right to show the game and Hatch sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Sen. Specter is probably just mad at the NFL over SpyGate, but it’s worth discussing.

Many of the news reporters are crediting the Post for raising the issue. It should be noted that The Wall Street Journal highlighted the issue on February 2, long before the Post in one of those feature pieces they do so well.

This announcement raises a few questions: Why did the NFL have the policy in the first place? Why were they able to reverse course so quickly? Was it merely the pressure of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah? If that’s all it took, why wasn’t the policy changed sooner?

Last question: will reporters cover next year’s mega-church Super Bowl parties?

Update: A reader sent me a note that pointed out that I failed to mention that Senator Hatch is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And Senator Specter is Jewish. As the reader points out, neither would seem to have great affinity for conservative Protestant congregations, which is a very good point.

However, I think it’s relevant to point out that it is not likely that Hatch and Specter wrote these letters themselves. At least with my experience with Congress, and especially the Senate, it is likely that a member of their staff headed up this effort and the senators just signed off on the idea. I guess the key to this story then could be finding the staff member who has his church’s Super Bowl party cancelled and getting him to talk on the record.

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Why object to female refs?

female refereeThere’s been an odd little crisis brewing in the high school sports world of Kansas where a religious school refused to allow a referee who happens to be female to call the fouls in a boys’ high school basketball game. The reasons cited at the time by St. Mary’s Academy officials, which is about 25 miles northwest of Topeka, weren’t that clear, but it seemed to have something to do with the fact that they didn’t believe women should have authority over men.

Now the Kansas High School Activities Association is considering taking action against the private school, which could amount to a ban on its participation in official contests against schools that are members of the association. Since the private school plays maybe two games a year against member schools, this amount to little punishment, if any. This is still a contentious issue since only recently have female referees called NBA games. Rarely in high school and as my time as a junior high coach did I ever have a female referee an organized basketball game in which I participated (and no one ever made an objection).

A little background is necessary to understand why a school would do this. The school is owned by Society of St. Pius X, and they follow pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic laws. In fact, Pope John Paul II excommunicated the now deceased society’s leader, the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the late 1980s.

With all that in mind, consider how the reporter for The Kansas City Star covered the controversy and how the views of the school were portrayed in the absence of any official word from the school:

St. Mary’s, which houses students in kindergarten through 12th grade, separates boys and girls in virtually all endeavors. Some women teach boys, and the girls can participate in intramural-type sports.

According to the St. Mary’s Web site, “The ultimate goal of our schools is to form good Catholics and good citizens in such a manner that the whole person may be submitted to the reign of Jesus Christ in the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical spheres.”

A lot could be inferred from the statement, but it’s better than nothing since the school didn’t respond to requests for comment. Since this story was published, the society came out with this statement on its Web site:

ST. MARY’S ACADEMY (in St. Mary’s, KS) policy is to have only men in their sports program for boys.

Sports for boys are seen as training for the battlefield of life where the boys will need to fight at times through great difficulties. As such, it is more appropriate that it be men who train and direct the boys in these sports programs for only men can teach the boys to be men, just as only women can truly teach girls to be women.

It is not a question of women having no authority over boys as the quote in the paper (if it was accurate) seems to indicate. It is a question in athletics of men training boys to be men.

Apparently that subtle distinction wasn’t good enough for the high school association, which received an official response regarding the incident from the academy on Thursday. The response in the form of a letter has not leaked out, and apparently it is still be evaluated.

While most stories on this incident have appropriately pointed to the school’s September 2004 refusal to play a football game against another school because that school had a girl on its roster, reporters aren’t seriously trying to understand and explain the theology or religious law, or lack thereof, supporting the school’s decision.

The basic facts are in the stories, but readers are left wondering why the school has these policies. Perhaps with the help of school officials, which appear to not be communicating with media, a better explanation could be given for the school’s apparent split with the Catholic Church and its beliefs.

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How did the Butler do it?

butler In the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” it’s obvious how the Allied prisoners escaped from a German prisoner camp: they built an underground tunnel. In a Washington Post story of the same name, it’s not at all clear how as a teenager NBA All-Star Caron Butler escaped from his drug-infested neighborhood.

Butler’s explanation is theological. He believes that God turned around his life:

“The graveyards and prisons are full of people that wanted a second chance,” Butler said. “God put his hands on my life. He said ‘I’m going to touch you so that you can touch others.’ “

Later in the story, Butler explains the inspiration behind his transformation. While in juvenile prison, he read scripture:

Butler decided that he’d never be in that position again. He read Bible verses his grandmother, Margaret Butler, had sent him. Butler said he was drawn mostly to 1 Corinthians 13:11, which reads, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

One small window, sandwiched between steel bars, lit his room. Butler could peer out and see a basketball court.

“God puts stuff in front of you for a reason,” he said. “That was my ticket out.”

By contrast, Post reporter Michael Lee’s explanation is material. He believes that a cop caught Butler a lucky break. Police officer Michael Geller could have arrested Butler for “constructive possession” of drugs. Instead of putting him in the back of the police car, Geller let him go.

greatescapeGeller’s decision saved Butler, or at least his basketball career.

A very pragmatic man, Geller said he prides himself on a meticulous approach to his job. He believes police work is much easier when you treat people correctly. “I’m not saying that Caron might not have been involved in something at that point, but in my gut, I was pretty confident the dope wasn’t his. I had done my homework.”

Geller’s supervisor told him that he had enough for an arrest, but left the final decision up to Geller.

“If this had been a situation where I knew going in that Caron was the guy selling the dope — that he was the responsible party — I’m not going to lie to you, he would’ve been escorted out of that house,” Geller said.

He decided to let Butler go.

“I thought it was the right thing to do — to see him go on the right path,” Geller said.

But Geller and his supervisor left Butler with a warning. “They told me, ‘If you get in trouble again, anything to do with narcotics again, you’re taking this case, too,’ ” Butler recalled. “I was like, ‘You don’t have to worry about that.’ ”

Like most of the Post‘s in-depth stories, Lee’s story was well reported and character driven.

But the contrast between Butler’s and Lee’s explanations is jarring. When I first read the story, I concluded that Geller had saved Butler’s career (and maybe his life). But after I read the story again and considered Butler’s explanation, I wasn’t so sure.

Lee’s failure to address this contradiction leaves careful readers in the lurch. At minimum, Lee should have squared his explanation with Butler’s. Does Butler view Geller as an instrument of God’s handiwork? Does Geller think he was just doing his job or seeking to do the Lord’s work?

Butler deserves his selection this year as an all star. Whenever he has made a big shot, Wizards fans or announcers will say, “The Butler did it!” After reading Lee’s story, I wonder how he did.

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God and gridiron beat (again)

david tyree catchAnybody remember the post-Super Bowl interview with New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree? That was the man who, just after making that amazing catch with his helmet and hands allowing the Giants to win the Super Bowl, thanked God on national television just for the chance to be out there.

Some skeptics doubt whether God really has an impact on the football field. Others have expressed frustration and disdain for athletes who insert God into the conversation after an athletic event.

But in Tyree’s case, it’s hard to deny that the reason Tyree is out there is because he found a supernatural savior. The New York Times profiles Tyree’s life story and does not shy away from the God talk. In fact, the reporters Greg Bishop and Pete Thamel embrace it:

“What looked to be the lowest point in my life ended up being the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Tyree, speaking of his arrest in 2004, said Saturday morning while sitting at his kitchen table.

From special-teams demon to Super Bowl deity. From moonlighting drug dealer to born-again Christian. From a child who drank alcohol and smoked marijuana with his family to a sober father and husband who started his own nonprofit organization.

Who remembers Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King quoted in Christianity Today saying that he “tires of players bringing up their faith after a” football game?

“To be honest with you, people like me just totally ignore that, because we’re not writing about religion,” King said. “We’re not writing about somebody’s Christianity. Once the questions veer off into game-oriented things, that’s when I start taking notes.”

Question for King and for others who like to ignore statements about God from athletes: would you listen to Tyree talk about how God is the reason for him making a game-winning catch in the Super Bowl? Would you try to argue with him and say that God did not have an impact on his life? I doubt it. More from the NYT:

The morning Tyree left jail, in March 2004, his estranged girlfriend, Leilah, sent him a text message. It read, “I’m with child.” She was pregnant with their second son. He promised to visit her in Syracuse and went home and downed a bottle of Remy Martin cognac. During the visit that month, Leilah presented Tyree with an ultimatum — her lifestyle or his.

Tyree promised change, just as he had promised before. He glimpsed a Bible on her bed, and when he picked it up and started reading from the book of Genesis, for the first time, the words on the page made sense. He went home and “called every woman and told them, ‘Things are about to change.’ ” Tyree said he never drank again.

Then one day, for no reason in particular, Tyree went to the Bethel Church of Love and Praise in Bloomfield, N.J. He sat in the back, about a month after the arrest.

A woman started singing before the congregation, her voice, loud and passionate, filling the room. As Tyree listened, he felt her joy and realized he had none. He lowered his head into his hands and started crying, first sniffles, then sobs lasting 25 minutes.

“I’m a successful player in the N.F.L., having what most people would desire for their lives,” Tyree said. “I’m at the pinnacle of sports. But I had no joy. I had no peace. My life was obviously in disarray.”

My only fuss with the NYT piece is that it failed to delve into what Tyree means by finding God. What did Tyree’s mother mean when “she said she found God” and in her final words before dying “I’m liberated”? Is it inappropriate for a reporter, or even a sports reporter, to ask Tyree what he meant when he told his mother that she needed “to find Jesus. You’re going to hell”?

The NYT reporters leave a lot open for the reader to interpret, which is probably appropriate in this situation. But follow-up questions on theological statements shouldn’t be considered inappropriate for reporters. Getting to the heart of what athletes mean when they credit God and thank God for their success could potentially encourage those who don’t mean what they say to quiet down and give those who do mean what they say a chance to further inform those listening and reading.

With that all said, did anyone read The Washington Post‘s massive 3,100-plus word story on the late NFL superstar Sean Taylor? Not that there has been an absence of God-talk in the tragic murder of the Washington Redskins safety, but could that aspect of Taylor’s life been mentioned at least once in this rather personal piece on Taylor and his family life?

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Big churches, big screens, big game

FBC Pic1385x258I wish I knew where I heard the statistic claiming that 85 percent of the growing churches in America have added large-screen video technology to their worship centers (the large rooms that once were called “sanctuaries”). As a religion columnist, I receive so many letters and emails making so many claims and it’s hard to keep track of it all.

So handle that with a grain of salt. However, if you click around a bit in this Google search, you will get a sense of what’s happening out there.

I bring this up because large-screen video systems in churches are at the heart of the IT story this year as the hours tick down to that football game today. Here is a typical lede from Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal:

One unlikely match-up Sunday pits two powerhouse opponents against each other: the National Football League and the Christian church.

On one side are church-sponsored Super Bowl parties with big-screen TVs, soft drinks and some soul-saving talk at halftime. On the other are NFL lawyers threatening to crack down on unauthorized use of the game. The league, which owns both the Super Bowl name and the broadcast, has restrictions that limit TV screens to 55 inches at public viewings, except at venues like bars and restaurants that regularly broadcast sporting events. Airing the game at events that promote a message, including a religious message, is forbidden.

All of the elements are in there, including a major mistake.

This is not a showdown between the NFL and the whole church or all kinds of churches. It’s a battle between the NFL and those large, growing churches that can turn almost any kind of social event or trend into a form of evangelism and outreach. And evangelism tends to happen in evangelistic churches, which usually means evangelical churches. I doubt there will be many fellowship halls in oldline, liberal Protestant churches full of crowds — older baby boomers and up — watching football today.

Hey, here’s a news angle. Since many liberal mainline churches serve alcohol, could an Episcopal parish legally host a giant-screen Super Bowl party under a kind of “wherever you find four Episcopalians you will always find a fifth” clause?

No, me thinks that this NFL vs. the pews story is not about “churches” in general. This is about those conservative “megachurches” with all of that high-end video equipment in those large auditoriums that look like movie theaters. That means that if people — think politicians — try to “solve” this problem it will quickly turn into a left vs. right thing.

The only hope (I am smiling as I type that) is that North Carolina Democratic congressman Heath Shuler — a former NFL quarterback — continues to carry the ball on this issue. Then again, he is a pro-life Democrat who is popular in evangelical churches, so you may end up with a culture war dynamic no matter what.

large Bar SPORTSYou think I am kidding? Check out this section of the Washington Post report on the topic.

The league bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens larger than 55 inches because smaller sets limit the audience size. The section of federal copyright law giving the NFL protection over the content of its programming exempts sports bars, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The issue came to a head last year after the NFL sent a letter to Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, warning the church not show the Super Bowl on a giant video screen. For years, the church had held a Super Bowl party in its auditorium, attracting about 400 people and showing the game on a big screen usually reserved for hymn lyrics. …

The policy has prompted some drastic downscaling. Last year, Vienna Presbyterian Church planned a party in its fellowship hall for its middle school and high school students, airing the game on its 12-foot video screen. Church leaders had hoped to use the game to draw in the teenagers, often a tough crowd to get through church doors.

“We thought we had found our magic bullet,” said Barb Jones, the church’s director of communication. The event was canceled, however, after the church heard about the Indianapolis case.

Now this is where the plot thickens, a bit. If you hit the website of Vienna Presbyterian Church, you find out that it is part of the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But the language used at the site is very, very evangelical. It would be interesting to see if there are Super Bowl parties going on today in PCUSA churches on the more liberal side of the denomination. Meanwhile, I would bet the bank that there are more parties of this kind going on in Evangelical Presbyterian and Presbyterian Church in America congregations.

You have to ask: Why is the NFL so worried about football parties in these growing, thriving churches? Why is evangelism more “dangerous” than alcohol? Why are large crowds of people doing what they do in bars, “preying” even, good for advertisers and groups of people praying in churches bad for advertisers? I wonder. Is the alcohol lobby involved in this?

Stay tuned.

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To quote the ESPN star (or not)

touchdown jesusAs you would imagine, I have received a fair amount of email lately about ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson’s profane performance at the Atlantic City, N.J., roast for Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, better known as the “Mike and Mike in the Morning” duo. This story continues to bubble on the back burner.

Some of the comments have been very predictable, with people divided a bit on whether ESPN should fire Jacobson. Here’s a chunk of a report that sums of this angry response:

… Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Thursday called for picketing and a prayer vigil outside ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. …

“ESPN has to step up to the plate here. Imagine the outrage if Ms. Jacobson said, ‘F–k Mohammed,’ ‘F–k Jews,’ or ‘F–k African-Americans.’

“We’re simply asking that the parent company of ESPN, ABC, treat this incident the same way they did when Isaiah Washington publicly used the word ‘fag’ when referring to a cast member,” Mahoney said. “Although the faith community can forgive and extend mercy to Ms. Jacobson, she still must assume full responsibility and accept the consequences for her hate-filled rhetoric.”

And so forth and so on. This angle of the story did not interest me all that much.

However, I was interested in the fact that it was hard to find a mainstream press report that actually told you much about what happened and, for example, what she actually said. This was the rare story where it was “conservative” to quote the profane facts — of a censored version thereof — and “mainstream” to leave the readers guessing in the dark.

Thus, the Associated Press wrote:

Jacobson’s speech included obscenities aimed at Notre Dame, with Irish football coach Charlie Weis in attendance. An article in The Press of Atlantic City the next day said that Jacobson “made an absolute fool of herself, swilling vodka from a Belvedere bottle, mumbling along and cursing like a sailor as Mike & Mike rested their heads in their hands in embarrassment.” She was booed off the stage.

In a statement released through ESPN, Jacobson called her comments about Notre Dame “foolish and insensitive.”… Jacobson’s speech included obscenities aimed at Notre Dame, with Irish football coach Charlie Weis in attendance.

Meanwhile, people willing to veer over to alternative, conservative news pages could read passages such as this:

Jacobson’s Jan. 11 tirade against Notre Dame football at a sports celebrity banquet reportedly not only included “F*** Notre Dame!” and “F*** Touchdown Jesus!” — but also “F*** Jesus!”

Even Baptist Press issued an editor’s note warning and let readers know what happened, while softening the blow somewhat:

A profanity-laced tirade earned ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson a weeklong suspension from her duties with the sports network.

According to various reports, an intoxicated Jacobson reportedly hurled a string of “F-word” insults aimed at Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus and Jesus Christ Himself during a Jan. 11 roast in Atlantic City, N.J., for ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, of the ESPN radio show “Mike and Mike in the Morning.”

So what’s the point? I do think that it’s safe to say that the fallout at ESPN from this event would have been much greater if Jacobson had shot from the lip at another religious group other than a traditional form of Christianity. Some targets are safer than others.

However, the question that is more interesting, for journalists, is whether the story would have received greater play in the mainstream news media if she had aimed at some other group. And would more journalists have quoted the remarks more clearly, to help people realize just how far she went at that podium?

One more question: Does anyone know how the late-night comics handled this?

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Faith on the diamond

josh hamiltonYou really can’t write about major league baseball player Josh Hamilton without focusing on the faith aspect of his story. Even the reporters writing about him admit this in their articles.

Part of the reason is that Hamilton talks about it so much, and the other part is that it is hard to objectively say that faith has not played a significant part of Hamilton’s life. In other words, reporters cannot say that Hamilton is just talking about God because it sounds good. God is genuinely the reason Hamilton is doing batting practice these days and preparing for a summer on the baseball diamond.

Appropriately, a very thorough Dallas Morning News profile of Hamilton is headlined “Faith brings Texas Rangers’ Hamilton back from the brink.” The reporter Evan Grant establishes up front that you can’t ignore the importance faith has played in Hamilton’s life and his efforts to come back to the sport he loves:

Faith. It comes up often in the story of 26-year-old Joshua Holt Hamilton. It’s virtually impossible to tell his story without mentioning his Christian faith. He’d prefer you not even try.

Faith, he regularly testifies, has put him back in baseball after four years of addiction problems so ugly you can’t blame his family for not wanting to relive them. But because of faith, they do — to churches, youth groups and halfway houses.

If Hamilton could shake his habit — it included downing a bottle of Crown Royal almost daily and cocaine and crack cravings so strong he burned through a $3.96 million signing bonus — and finally get to the big leagues last season, there had to be a reason.

Hamilton highlighted the role faith plays in his life when he told his story to ESPN The Magazine‘s Tim Keown earlier last summer. Unlike the DMN profile, Hamilton explicitly states what was attacking him (“the devil”) and what saved him. It is not a generic “faith,” that saved him from his drug addictions. Jesus Christ as his personal “savior” brought Hamilton back from the brink.

Hamilton’s faith has not only saved him personally from his drug habit. From a baseball perspective, the DMN story highlights how faith played a practical role in bringing him back to baseball and now onto the Texas Rangers:

The Rangers spoke to doctors about dealing with addiction. They did some basic research on athletes and addiction. They found, at least on an anecdotal level, athletes who had strong faith-based beliefs were better positioned to stay clean.

UT-Southwestern addiction specialist Dr. Bryon Adinoff concurs.

“If you replace addiction with religion, it’s not an addiction’ it’s something meaningful, socially appropriate and rewarding,” Adinoff says. “It’s typically very healthy behavior.”

To that end, the Rangers wanted first-hand knowledge of how Hamilton expressed his faith. They sent scouts to some of his talks.

“He seemed to be presenting a very consistent message,” Daniels says. “Before he got involved with drugs, everybody who dealt with him thought he was a very high-quality guy. We saw that. I think there are two things that have played a part in why this attempt at fighting addiction has been successful: Family and faith.”

No one is going to question Hamilton’s sincerity when he says faith is what has kept him alive and playing in baseball. Baseball officials seem to believe that Hamilton’s faith is a reason to trust that he will not relapse.

I hope that Hamilton’s story can be an example to other sports reporters of the effect faith can have in an athlete’s life. When an athlete (or coach) cites faith as the reason for their success or abilities, reporters should dig deeper into those statements. As in Hamilton’s life, faith is not just something someone talks about. It is the reason that person is alive.

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Scandal in St. Louis, again

majerus biondi 01I wonder exactly how many reporters the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will use to cover the Rick Majerus story.

The other day, we looked at how religion reporter Tim Townsend added quite a bit of value to the initial reports of Majerus’ unorthodox statements and Archbishop Raymond Burke’s denunciation of same. The latest installment is by one Kavita Kumar. Archbishop Burke, you may remember, said he would leave it to Majerus’ employer — St. Louis University — to determine how Majerus should be punished.

So check out this story which is about how SLU president Lawrence Biondi has remained silent on the issue:

Some faculty members wish Biondi or other campus leaders would speak out forcefully on the issue to make clear that the university respects academic freedom and that other employees should not be fearful about speaking their minds.

But many faculty and student leaders say they are comfortable with the university’s statement through spokesman Jeff Fowler, which said that Majerus was expressing his own opinions and not speaking on behalf of the university. Fowler has not definitively said whether Majerus will be reprimanded.

Are those the only options? Are there any members of the SLU community who think that Majerus should be punished? If there are, their views should be mentioned. If there aren’t, the reader should be informed of that.

Majerus, for what it’s worth, told the Post-Dispatch that he doesn’t regret his views in support of abortion rights and embryonic-destroying stem cell research. Further, he said he doesn’t expect to be punished by SLU.

Here’s a representative quote from someone at the school:

Harold Bush, an English professor and president of the faculty council for the College of Arts and Sciences, acknowledged that the university has a good track record in upholding freedom of expression and ideas.

“But I think some of the faculty is a little nervous about the fact that (SLU officials) have not come out in support of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” he said. “I think they might want to consider going a bit farther, saying this is what universities do, this is what we represent. We represent critical thinking and academic freedom.”

I personally think Burke could have handled this whole kerfuffle better but I love how we’re talking about academic freedom with regard to a basketball coach. I mean, that’s not even a real sport (or so I try to convince my husband). I went to a public university and I’m pretty sure it was not that different from most schools in being about the last place you would look for freedom of expression. Speech codes, anyone? But that’s another matter. I think it’s the job of the reporter to clarify the different issues at play here. Academic freedom is different from what Burke is talking about. Burke is talking about the theological issue of scandal, something that Townsend has reported on in the past.

Kumar goes on to say that some faculty are worried about bringing up homosexuality in the classroom while others say that’s ridiculous, pointing to the university’s repeated sponsorship of The Vagina Monologues. The article also quotes Biondi in a 2006 saying any university-level censorship is bad. I’ve noticed previous articles quoting people as saying that “free speech” should triumph in the Majerus case.

The assumption is that Majerus is a prime example, as quoted in Associated Press reporter Christopher Leonard’s story:

“These beliefs are ingrained in me,” Majerus told the paper. “And my First Amendment right to free speech supersedes anything that the archbishop would order me to do. My dad fought on Okinawa in World War II. My uncle died in World War II. I had classmates die in Vietnam. And it was to preserve our way of life, so people like me could have an opinion.”

That’s all fine and good but it seems there is a great deal of public confusion about what freedom of speech means, legally speaking, and it’s become a pet peeve of mine.

The First Amendment protects speech, certainly, but it applies to government restriction of speech rather than private employer restriction of free speech. Unless government authorities tell you that you can’t publicly support embryonic-destroying stem cell research, it’s not a free speech issue. Burke didn’t say that Majerus should be prohibited by the federal government from endorsing the destruction of embryos — he said that the comments were not Catholic and that representatives of Catholic universities should not say such things. Even the federal government can restrict the speech of its own employees, according to the Supreme Court.

Many of the Majerus articles focus on who has control over the university. Taking that issue and even Burke out of it, I think it would be interesting to see an article explore whether the university feels it has any obligation to condemn Majerus’ views in support of abortion rights and embryonic-destroying stem cell research. Or, put another way, if Biondi disagrees with Burke’s notion of scandal, what are his views of scandal and how the church should handle false teaching in its midst?

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