“It’s all in good fun,” said one of her fellow students who was present and who saw the woman in the school’s annual art school parade on April 18. “It’s not meant to harm anyone.”
Bishop David Zubik disagrees. The bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where CMU’s 4th Annual “Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby” occurred, was quick to condemn the demonstration, calling it “inappropriate and disrespectful.”
Bishop Zubik has called for the university to address the disrespect shown toward Catholics and the papacy. “We all know that when we’re growing up, we do stupid things,” Bishop Zubik said. “But to cross over the line in this instance shouldn’t happen with anybody.”
The Diocese has asked Carnegie Mellon University to take action to discipline the student. As of this writing, CMU has not announced what action, if any, will be taken. The university issued a statement saying, in part, “We are continuing our review of the incident. If our community standards or laws were violated, we will take appropriate action.”
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A couple of quick observations regarding the so-called “community standards”:
RESTRICTIONS ON PUBLIC NUDITY. Public nudity is always against community standards. Small children and conservative seniors could not have avoided the woman as this sideshow passed their homes at 3:00 in the afternoon. Even on television, nudity is prohibited because it violates the religious or cultural sensibilities of private citizens. Nude beaches are limited and age-restricted to protect the rights of citizens.
RESPECT FOR RELIGION. The disrespect shown toward the Catholic Church would never be tolerated, were it directed instead toward Muslims, Jews or minorities; and it should not be tolerated when directed against Catholicism. Bishop Zubik is right to stand against this bigoted, intolerant treatment of Catholics, and to demand an apology.
THE LIMITS OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM. Students loudly proclaimed their right to “freedom of expression.” The term “freedom of expression”, though, has been applied by the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect against wanton disregard for religions, such as that displayed at CMU:
On March 22, 2013, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a new resolution on combating religious intolerance. ARTICLE 19, a charitable organization established in 1987 to ensure that religious ideas are respected in the public square, and CIHRS (the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies) welcomed the new resolution.
Refworld.com, the website of the UN Refugee Agency, explains the two organizations’ support for religious tolerance (emphasis mine):
In particular, ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS appreciate that the resolution reaffirms the positive role of the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information can play in strengthening democracy and combating religious intolerance.
The Action Plan requires States to foster a domestic environment of religious tolerance, peace and respect, by:
- Encouraging the creation of collaborative networks to build mutual understanding, promoting dialogue and inspiring constructive action;
- Creating an appropriate mechanism within Governments to, inter alia, identify and address potential areas of tension between members of different religious communities, and assisting with conflict prevention and mediation;
- Encouraging training of Government officials in effective outreach strategies;
- Encouraging the efforts of leaders to discuss within their communities the causes of discrimination, and evolving strategies to counter these causes;
- Speaking out against intolerance, including advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence;
- Adopting measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief;
- Understanding the need to combat denigration and negative religious stereotyping of persons, as well as incitement to religious hatred, through, inter alia, education and awareness-building;
- Recognizing that the open, constructive and respectful debate of ideas, as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue can play a positive role in combating religious hatred, incitement and violence;
The resolution further calls upon States to:
- To take effective measures to ensure that public functionaries in the conduct of their public duties do not discriminate on the basis of religion or belief;
- To foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of members of all religious communities to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society;
- To encourage the representation and meaningful participation of individuals, irrespective of their religion in all sectors of society;
- To make a strong effort to counter religious profiling, which is understood to be the invidious use of religion as a criterion in conducting questionings, searches and other law enforcement investigative procedures;
ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS reiterate its call upon States to continue their active engagement in good faith dialogue to ensure the protection of the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination for all individuals. We urge States to renew their commitment to the action plan set out in HRC Resolution 22/40, and redouble efforts to implement that plan at the domestic level.
AND LASTLY, INTENT. Did this outrageous costume just slip through the cracks, blindsiding the university’s administrators? It wouldn’t seem so. According to the event’s Facebook page established by Carnegie Mellon School of Art, “Last year got a little out of hand… we expect nothing less this time around.”
I trust that an apology will be forthcoming, and that the university will lay out a strong policy against denigration of the Catholic faith here in the U.S., in keeping with the UN’s goals for other parts of the world.
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UPDATE: On May 1, Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon has apologized for the actions of the student who dressed as the pope in the art school’s 4th Annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby, while parading through campus naked from the waist down and tossing condoms to an amused crowd.
According to local CBS affiliate KDKA, the matter is still under investigation; but President Cohon has said he is “extremely disturbed” by the incident.
The statement reads:
“This act was highly offensive and, as we have said, the university has been investigating the matter and following our procedures to determine if disciplinary action is warranted.
Some people seem to equate limited communication with no action, believing that the university is doing nothing, and somehow hoping that the issue will just go away. This is not the case, and those who know me and my administration should reject such ideas out of hand.
While our process is still in motion and I cannot comment on or speculate about the resolution of the matter, I can apologize to those who took particular offense. I regret that this occurred, and I apologize to all who were offended by this, for religious or other reasons, and especially to those who witnessed this behavior.”