Stoking Fire: Why is the Federal Government Supporting Evangelism?

Eleanor J. Bader

Separation of Church and State? Many tax-exempt religious colleges and universities are now using tax-payer subsidies to train the next generation of “Champions for Christ.”

When progressive pro-choicers think about enemies of reproductive justice, Blue Dog Democrats and the Republican Party come to mind. Of course, these forces merit our constant scrutiny on both the state and federal levels. At the same time, we’re missing the boat if we don’t also look at the many government-sanctioned institutions that are training the next generation of evangelical leaders to become what they call “Champions for Christ.”

Take, for example, tax-exempt Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The 38-year-old school boasts a 5000-acre campus, complete with 123 buildings, 60 accredited undergraduate majors, and schools of aeronautics, arts and sciences, business, communications, education, government, religion, and law. More than 11,000 residential students were enrolled in September 2009 and an additional 24,000 were online distance learners. This makes LU the largest evangelical Christian university in the world, quite a legacy for founder Jerry Falwell. It’s also one of the most affordable private colleges in the US: tuition, room, and board fees come to $21,200 a year, about half the cost of its competitors.

The Helms School of Government—yes, it’s named for deceased lawmaker Jesse Helms—crows that it turns out “Christ-centered leaders, able to apply God’s word in every area of life.” What’s more, LU’s webpage showcases its mission, promising students an “action-oriented curriculum dedicated to world evangelism and repudiation of political correctness.”

Not sure what that means? The site explains:

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A strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America’s economic system of free enterprise.

Thrice weekly chapel attendance is mandatory and it is here that the collision of faith and conservatism comes to the fore, with sermons delivered by such rightwing luminaries as Dinesh D’Souza, Fox TV personalities Sean Hannity and Shannon Bream, and LU alum, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.  But convocation—AKA chapel—is not the only place that students are lectured about morality and politics.

Hannah Sailsbury, a sophomore majoring in Elementary and Special Education, explains that all students are required to take GNED101 and GNED102. “The first,” she wrote in an email, “is designed to aid the student in the development of a biblical worldview.” Among the lessons, she continues, “is an affirmation of absolute truth.” The second class covers contemporary ethical issues.

“During GNED102 we learned about abortion history, the different types of abortion, and Bible verses that support that new life begins at conception. The class also covered helping strategies for women considering abortion and how to help those women who suffer from guilt because of an abortion.”  A

After taking the class, Sailsbury says that she committed herself to ending abortion in her lifetime and determined to share her reaction with everyone she knew. “The pro-life belief is an essential belief to Liberty University because God created life at conception and each individual life is important and unique,” her email explained.

Student government president Matthew Mihelic agrees with Sailsbury, and is working to “unify our student voice in support of the unborn.” To supplement GNED102, he and his colleagues organized a four-day Fall conference called ROSE, an acronym for Reclaiming Others’ Sacred Existence. Republican Congressmen Bob Goodlatte [VA] and Trent Franks [AZ] spoke, as did Norma McCorvey, LU Law School Dean Mathew Staver, [recently in the news for pressuring the FCC to fine ABC TV for airing Adam Lambert’s risqué performance at the 2009 American Music Awards] and Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America.

“The Lord says for us to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves and to stand up for the rights of those who have no justice,” Mihelic says. “We, as the next generation of evangelical Christians in America, are not willing to be silent on the issue of abortion and we will not stop until it is ended once and for all.”

Like most LU students and faculty members, Mihelic and Sailsbury place abortion in the center of an anti-secular worldview. As they see it, raising money for a local crisis pregnancy center or for the Liberty Godparents Home, a Christian residence for pregnant girls ages 12-21, is as much a part of their education as required classes in English, History, or a language.

Not surprisingly, they have no problem with the fact that most LU students finance their coursework with Virginia Tuition Assistance monies and federal Pell, Supplementary Educational Opportunity, Teach and Smart grants.

But not everyone is so accepting. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a still-pending complaint with the Internal Revenue Service in May, asking that body to review LU’s tax exempt status. According to Barry Lynn, AU’s Executive Director, “The courts in Virginia and at the federal level have seemingly forgotten that the Constitution bars expenditures for religious purposes.”

Lynn’s ire was further raised last month when LU’s student newspaper was distributed off campus in what he calls a blatant attempt to deter Democratic voters. “During the last election cycle they sent the paper to large numbers of people in the wards. This was the deliberate use of resources by a tax-exempt entity to promote Republicans. You would literally have had to be sight impaired not to understand exactly who you were supposed to vote for when you read this paper.”

Folks at LU seem nonplussed by the critique. After all, the Republicans took the state Capital and were locally victorious.  And, the LU student body continues to grow;  Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. predicts a total of 50,000 students within a decade.

Commentary Religion

Why Is Georgetown University Denying Freedom of Speech and Assembly? A Letter to the President

Erin Matson

On September 22, Georgetown University campus police removed from outside the school's front gates a small group of students who had been peacefully advocating for reproductive rights, women's rights, and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

Note: Rewire Editor at Large and Georgetown alum Erin Matson sent this letter in response to an incident concerning abortion rights and free speech that took place near campus on September 22. 

September 29, 2014

President John J. DeGioia
Georgetown University
Office of the President
204 Healy Hall
37th and O Streets, NW
Washington, D.C. 20057

Dear President DeGioia:

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We the undersigned 232 Georgetown University alumni are writing to express our dismay and strong concern regarding campus police’s September 22 removal of a small, peaceful group of students, representing H*yas for Choice, from a public sidewalk just outside the front gates.

In January, police removed students similarly tabling for H*yas for Choice from an on-campus location, ordering them to relocate to the very sidewalk from which they were removed last Monday. On both occasions, the students were quietly presenting an alternative view to official church teachings by advocating for reproductive rights, women’s rights, and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

These issues matter. They are both moral and practical. This is an age of social change and political polarization on issues pertaining to sexuality and human rights, on both a national and international scale.

Georgetown has long played a leadership role in policy debates as the premier institution of higher learning in our nation’s capital. It can no longer do so if only one view may be stated.

Further, this is a unique moment within the Catholic Church. Our first Jesuit pope has set a fresh tone. Many listened closely when Pope Francis indicated this view as pertains to abortion and gay rights: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules … We have to find a new balance.”

We the undersigned 232 alumni take the view that Georgetown should allow its students to take part in these discussions. We believe in open dialogue and debate.

In May of this year, the university revised its speech and expression policy to designate speech zones on campus. While this effort may have been designed to give clarity as to where H*yas for Choice and other unsponsored student groups may express their views, recent events demonstrate that such an objective has not been achieved. The designation of free speech zones in itself serves to segregate and stigmatize certain speakers. We also take concern with this most recent removal of speech from a public sidewalk in Washington, D.C.

Respectfully, we are requesting an affirmation that H*yas for Choice will be permitted to peacefully dialogue in the future.

Sincerely,

Sarah Audelo, SFS 2006
Melissa Adams, COL 2012
Sara Ainsworth, SFS 2014, L 2017
Arturo Altamirano, COL 2014
Jessica Ann, SFS 2014
Kate Appleton, COL 2003
Sara Appleton, COL 2012
Deanna Arthur, SFS 2014
Amy Baer, CAS 1988
Jonathan Balloch, COL 2011
Michael Balsan, COL 2012
Michael Barclay, COL 2012
Johanna Barron, COL 2010
Ksenya Belooussova, SFS 2014
Tyler Bilbo, COL 2012
Jordyne Blaise, COL 2006, L 2010
Alex Bozzette, SFS 2012
Ashley Bradylyons, SFS 2012
Jordan Braunfeld, COL 2014
Laura Brayton, MSB 2013
Peter Brigham, SFS 2014
Jheanelle Brown, SFS 2010
John Bufe, COL 2011, GS 2012
Elizabeth Buffone, COL 2014
Nikita Buley, MSB 2014
Gina Bull, SFS 2012
Donald F. Burke, III, MSB 2010
Robert Byrne, COL 2012
Rachel Calvert, COL 2014
Toby Campion, COL 2013
Kaitlin Carano, COL 2013
Juan Felipe Cardona, SFS 2014
Carolyn Junttila Carson, COL 2013
Mary Cass, COL 2012
Caitlin Cassidy, COL 2011
Michelle Cassidy, COL 2013
McKenzie Cato, COL 2012
Christina Cauterucci, COL 2010, SCS 2014
Irene Cavros, SFS 2014
Camila Chaudron, COL 2012
Soraya Chemaly, COL 1988
Celeste Chen, COL 2014
Laurel Chor, NHS 2012
Sophia Chung, COL 2014
Jonathan Cohn, COL 2010
Rachel S. Cohen, COL 2009
Madeline Elizabeth Collins, COL 2013
Elizabeth Cooper-Chrismon, SFS 2013
Bridget Copes, COL 2009
Jessica Corsi, SFS 2004
Bobby Courtney, COL 2011
Jessica Craige, SFS 2014
Christina Crisostomo, SFS 2013
Nicole Cronin, SFS 2010
Randy Crooks, SFS 2013
Frances Davila, SFS 2010
Catherine DeGennaro, COL 2013
Carlos DeLaTorre, COL 2013
Michael Deneen, COL 2014
Amelia Di Stefano, COL (FLL) 2012
Ellie DiBerardino, COL 2013
Kelly Differding, COL 2010
Zoe Disselkoen, SFS 2014
Amanda Dominguez, SFS 2014
Zosia Dunn, COL 2014
Kate Dylewsky, COL 2013
Victoria Edel, COL 2014
Mo Elleithee, SFS 1994
Ceyda Erten, SFS 2013
Joanne Esteban, SFS 2014
Gillian Evans, SFS 2012
Katherine Everitt, COL 2013
Claire Sunderland Ferguson, SFS 2013
Lawson Ferguson, SFS 2012, MSFS 2016
Guadalupe Fernandez, SFS 2014
Leigh Finnegan, COL 2013
Heather Flaherty, COL 2014
Lisa Frank, COL 2013
Alex Freeman, COL 2014
Stephanie Frenel, SFS 2012
Natalie Gallagher, COL 2013
Maya Gebeily, SFS 2013
Petar Georgiev, NHS 2013
Richa Goyal, SFS 2013
Leslie Gordon, COL 2009
Madelyne Greene, COL 2010
Joyce Gresko, L 2008
Elizabeth Gromet, COL 2014
Francisco J. Gutierrez, MSB 2013
Lanier Hagerty, SFS 2014
Rebecca Harris, MSB 2002
Brittany Harwood, SFS 2013
Rocio Hernandez, SFS 2011
Sarah David Heydemann, COL 2009
Haley Hirzel, COL 2014
Tanisha Humphrey, COL 2012
Kaan Inan, SFS 2014
Lina Jamis, COL 2012
Eun Sun Jang, SFS 2013
Charlotte Japp, COL 2013
Blake E Johnson, COL 2014
Sebastian Johnson, COL 2010
Ann Jung, SFS 2014
Upasana Kaku, SFS 2013
Codie Kane, COL 2012
Joe Kapusnick, SFS 2010
Sean Keady, SFS 2013
Jackie Kelley, COL 2007
Sean Kelly, SFS 2013
Anne Kenslea, COL 2013
Megan Kirby, COL 2012
Alisha Kramer, COL 2012
Samantha Kubek, COL 2013
Akari Kubo, SFS 2014
Catherine Kulick, COL 2014
Christian Lambert, SFS 2013
Capri LaRocca, SFS 2013
Nick Laskowski, COL 2003
Margaret Laush, SFS 2014
Jessica Lee, COL 2005
Brittanie Leibold, COL 2013
Taylor Lescallette, SFS 2012
Phoebe Lett, COL 2013
Zoe Lillian, COL 2013
Michael Lindvall, SFS 2013
Shiouyu Theresa Lou, SFS 2014
Jenna Lowenstein, COL 2009
Michael Madoff, SFS 2013
Kara Mahoney, COL 2007
Dr. Meredith M. Malburne-Wade, GS 2003
Andrew Malzberg, COL 2011
Elisa Manrique, COL 2014
Natalia Margolis, SFS 2013
Ian Martinez, GS 2004
Erin Matson, COL 2002
Benjamin McAfee, SFS 2012
Melissa McClure, COL 2013
Morgan McDaniel, SFS 2013
Chase Meacham, COL 2014
Evan Milberg, SCS 2013
Alex Miller, COL 2011
Cynthia Miller, COL 2002
Melissa Miller, COL 2011
Rehana Mohammed, SFS 2012
Shaella Morales, COL 2014
Rebecca Moses, COL 2012
Megha Motgi, SFS 2014
Anjani Nadadur, SFS 2012
Laura Narefsky, COL 2014
Jessica Natoli, COL 2014
Alfonso Fernández Navas, COL 2014
Eric Nemarich, COL 2014
Andrew Nolen, COL 2004
Anna Northrup (nee Johansson), COL 2006
Meghan O’Hearn, COL 2012
Rena Pacheco-Theard, SFS 2007
Keerat Pannu, SFS 2010
Irma Pérez, COL 2004
Zenen Jaimes Perez, SFS 2013
Emily Perkins, COL 2014
Hanna Perry, COL 2013
Alyssa Peterson, COL 2014
Hashim K. Pipkin, COL 2010
Allison Prescott, COL 2014
Liana Preudhomme, COL 2014
Caterina Profaci, COL 2012
Jennifer Ortiz Quezada, SFS 2013
Lauren Reese, COL 2012
Kate Reott, SFS 2013
Helah Robinson, SFS 2009
Aliz Rozell, SFS 2011
John Russell, COL 2009
Jenna Sackler, SFS 2014
Morgan Salomon, NHS 2012
Maria-Theresa Sanchez, SFS 2014
Talia Sandwick, COL 2009
Benjamin Santucci, SFS 2013
James Saucedo, MSB 2013
Kelly Sawyers, COL 2011
Gavin Schalliol, MAAS 2014
Mara Schechter, COL 2011
Jacob Schindler, SFS 2012
Emily Schuster, COL 2013
Katherina Shabalov, NHS 2014
Catherine Shi, MSB 2013
Beth Shook, COL 2009
Laura Shrum, NHS 2014
Deepa Sivarajan, COL 2012
Alison Smith, COL 2013
Jessica Smith, COL 2014
Daniel Solomon, SFS 2013
Colin Soper, COL 2012
Katherine Spiegel, COL 2014
Liam Stack, COL 2005
Cole Stangler, SFS 2013
Adele Stewart, NHS 2013
Natarajan Subramanian, SFS 2012
Marie Sullivan, COL 2014
Ariel Tabachnik, COL 2014
Adam Talbot, COL 2012
Neesha Tambe, COL 2013
Shuo Yan Tan, SFS 2012
Matt Taurchini, COL 2012
Kim Tay, COL 2014
Alexandra Theobald, SFS 2012
Sophia Topulos, COL 2012
Claudia Triana, SFS 2011
Michael Tubman, SFS 2003
Kat Tuckett, COL 2011
Madhuri Vairapandi, COL 2014
Alexandra Van Dine, SFS 2014
Joseph Vandegriff, COL 2014
Kalia Vang, COL 2013
Sarah Vazquez, COL 2013
Salome Viljoen, COL 2011
Allie Villarreal, COL 2012
Sara Wallace-Keeshen, SFS 2008
Mary Nancy Walter, COL 2014
Margaret Wardell, SFS 2014
Alyssa Warren, SFS 2012
Kelsey Warrick, COL 2014
Jared Watkins, COL 2011
Jasmine Wee, SFS 2013
Maura Weigel, COL 2010
Corey Wells, COL 2014
Taylor Wettach, SFS 2013
Claire Wheeler, COL 2012
Elspeth Williams, SFS 2008
Michael Wilson, COL 2005
Madeline Wiseman, COL 2013
Colleen Wood, SFS 2014
Ceecee Yao, COL 2013

Copies sent to:

Dr. Todd Olson
Dr. Jeanne Lord
Council Member David Grosso, L 2001

Commentary Religion

Stoking Fire: ‘Banned Books Week’ Reminds Us That Censorship Is a Year-Round Problem

Eleanor J. Bader

Even in the age of information, parents, pastors, and community groups still frequently attempt to stymie young people's access to "offensive" literature.

When the 2014-2015 academic year kicked off, the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate faced new line items in their budget. As ordered by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley two months earlier, each of the institutions had to devote tens of thousands of dollars—$52,000 and $17,000, respectively—toward teaching works related to the foundation of the United States. The reason for the expense? Censorship.

During the past year, both colleges had included books with LGBTQ themes on their mandatory summer reading lists for incoming students. Charleston had selected Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic memoir that chronicles the 2014 MacArthur Fellow’s coming-out process and addresses her relationship with her always-closeted gay father. Meanwhile, USC-Upstate had chosen to assign its new first-year class Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a compilation of stories about the state’s first queer radio show. As punishment for what one elected official called “promoting one side with no academic debate involved,” the state legislature moved to cut a collective $70,000 from the schools’ public-funding budget—the amount the colleges would have spent to provide copies of the books to students.

Ultimately, the threatened financial hand-slap did not come to pass: An 11th-hour deal restored the money after both schools agreed to spend an equivalent amount teaching the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Federalist Papers to all degree-seeking students. Many South Carolinians dubbed this an acceptable compromise, seeing nothing wrong with a strong academic focus on American democracy. At the same time, however, a host of groups, including The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, dubbed the move “unwarranted political interference with academic freedom.”

This interference is an excellent reminder that censorship, especially when it comes to publicly funded institutions, puts the availability of diverse viewpoints and narratives in real danger. Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) and other groups spend the last week in September coordinating events that bring attention to classic and modern works of literature regularly put on blast by pastors, parents, and government organizations. But even beyond “Banned Books Week,” which begins on September 21 this year, it is vital to remember that the attempted restriction of ideas remains an ongoing problem in the United States.

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Unsurprisingly, books written for children, teens, and young adults come under particular scrutiny for their content. Many free-speech defenders report that the growing popularity of texts with LGBTQ themes—such as Fun Home and Out Loud—has prompted widespread backlash. Additionally, they say, books written by women and people of color are also frequent targets of attempted censorship, especially when they reference sex, sexuality, or the human body. In short, any rhetoric that deviates from the mainstream often seems to raise the ire of people who wish to control and monitor every syllable that children read.

And the pressure isn’t just coming from right-wing legislators or religious conservatives. “Unlike [in] the 1980s and ’90s, big national organizations like the American Family Association are not the public face of this anymore,” Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, told Rewire. “It’s now a more localized phenomenon, sometimes led by a messianic pastor who tries to remove books from a library or school and sometimes led by a parent or group of parents who are coming from the political left or political center. There are a lot of well-meaning, concerned adults who simply don’t think a particular book is good for their kids or anyone else’s kids and want it gone.”

According to reports from the ALA-affiliated Freedom to Read Foundation, adults frequently justify those concerns by pointing to texts’ supposed “offensive language,” an imprecise term that includes profanity as well as the explicit mention of body parts. In other cases, their attempts to control a child’s perspective reflect a desire to retreat into apparently simpler times. Barbara M. Jones, executive director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said that parents sometimes have “a romantic idea of libraries as places people go to read nice stories to children.”

Jones explained, “We see what I call ‘helicopter parents,’ upper-middle-class people who somehow think it’s a good idea to protect their kids from situations or conditions that are going on in worlds other than their own. … They’re afraid of books that talk about suicide, drug use, violence, or other difficult subjects.”

While the inventory of literature deemed objectionable varies by locale, the ALA has been monitoring challenged books for decades. It notes on its website that these books, which grapple with such “difficult subjects,” frequently come under fire:

  • Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: The ALA reports that critics object to its “homosexuality, offensive language, and racism,” and that it is “sexually explicit” and “unsuited to age group” of young readers.
  • Judy Blume’s Forever: “Offensive language, sexual content”
  • Lauren Myracle’s ttyl: “Drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group”
  • Alice Walker’s The Color Purple:Homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit”
  • Robie H. Harris’ It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health: “Abortion, homosexuality, nudity, religious viewpoint, sex education, unsuited to age group”
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group”
  • Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved: “Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence”
  • Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: “Drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”
  • J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: “Anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence”

Even lighter subjects, such as supernatural romance novels, have some people up in arms. For example, last month, the pastor of the King of Saints Tabernacle in Cleveland, Texas, became incensed after he perused several shelves devoted to the undead in his local library. Rev. Phillip Missick told One News Now, “We’re responsible for what goes into the minds of our children and I thought, ‘What could be greater garbage than seducing your daughter into having a fantasy affair with a vampire?’ It’s crazy.”

Missick has demanded that “demon books be removed from the library,” something that staff are taking seriously. According to ABC Eyewitness News, his complaint prompted librarians to prepare a report for the city council to review sometime later this year addressing the issue of appropriate content for teens and tweens.

Yes, it’s tempting to titter at Missick’s reaction, but as Jones reminds us, censorship is no laughing matter. Last year, she points out, the ALA heard about approximately 300 efforts by local parents or community groups to remove books from a classroom or library. “We estimate that that’s only 20 or 25 percent of the total,” she said.

Even more alarming, the ALA notes that “since 1990, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has received reports of more than 18,000 attempts to remove materials in schools and libraries for content” that some consider to be “inappropriate, controversial or even dangerous.”

The danger, free speech proponents point out, is that when these books are withdrawn, readers lose out on a potential opportunity to expand their worldview.

“Whenever I can, I try to convince parents that children need to be exposed to historical and social facts, even if we’re not proud of them,” Jones said. “I always tell them that books can teach their sons and daughters how to think critically and learn about realities that will help them later in life. Libraries should be the place where a kid can explore ideas and ways of being.”

In addition, Jones says that she stresses the positive impact that books can have on young people—sharing letters she and other librarians have received from patrons, thanking them for suggesting a text that, as she put it, “literally changed or saved their lives.”

Nonetheless, she concedes that it is an uphill struggle, with constantly emerging battles to be fought.

For instance, Bertin reports that another form of censorship has begun to gather momentum among parents wishing to shield their children from sex, violence, or other uncomfortable ideas: The notion that books can and should be rated in the same way that the Motion Picture Association of America rates movies. She cautions that this could eventually edge some books out of circulation.

“This has the patina of child friendliness,” Bertin said. “But the question is, who will be doing the rating and what will it mean to say that something contains ‘sensitive material?’”

They’re important questions. As yet, however, they are unanswerable.