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: heterodoxy

"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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