Larry Calloway just wanted to sing.

Calloway is a driver for the Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle and is known on campus for singing during bus rides. He also gives short motivational pep talks to passengers as they depart.

His words are often laden with Christianity, praising God and Jesus, but Calloway — who last December fulfilled his dream of singing the national anthem at a Washington Wizards NBA game — always focuses on being positive with every student, staff member and any other rider he sees, he said in an interview with The Hoya.

“We’re supposed to encourage each other, lift each other up,” Calloway said in an interview with The Hoya.

Last month, a GUTS rider sent a complaint to Diann Smith, the director of Georgetown’s Office of Transportation Management. The rider was offended by his songs and speeches; after receiving the complaint, Smith instructed Calloway to stop singing, according to an interview with Calloway.

By silencing a man who has only ever sought to inspire those around him, Georgetown is not only doing its students and community a disservice — the university is violating its own rules and values.

Georgetown’s bar for muzzling speech is high, certainly far beyond well-intentioned song.

A relevant section of the university’s speech and expression policy reads: “It is not the proper role of a University to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

OTM’s instructions to the driver would have violated Georgetown’s policy even if the individual who complained found Calloway’s singing deeply offensive. But in this instance, Calloway’s speech does not even reach that threshold. The university’s intrusion on freedom of expression is, in this instance, unwarranted and counterproductive

Smith was not available for comment on this editorial. If her instructions to Calloway were dictated by the terms of his employment with Georgetown, she was well within her rights; however, no university contract should allow the silencing of an employee on such minor grounds.

Georgetown’s handling of this incident also violates our core principle of interreligious dialogue.

In a September 2008 speech at the Queens University Belfast Honorary Degree Ceremony in New York City, University President John J. DeGioia emphasized the importance of listening to the perspectives of other faiths in our day-to-day lives.

“As globalization has made our world smaller and smaller, the fact that we are living side by side demands that we come to understand one another at ever deeper levels,” DeGioia said.

Georgetown’s website currently advertises the value in interfaith communication.

“Religious pluralism and the promotion of interreligious dialogue is a core area of study at Georgetown,” the page reads.

Following through on this obligation requires the willingness of the entire Georgetown community to listen to one another in good faith. Interreligious understanding must be driven not by mistrust and hesitation but rather by a desire to promote the voice of a man who has found strength through his own practice of religion.

Georgetown has a shoddy reputation on free speech issues, such as refusing to formally recognize pro-abortion rights group H*yas for Choice and designating only certain areas, such as Red Square, for speech unconstrained by the university. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a leading nonprofit focusing on individual rights in education, rates Georgetown “Red,” which indicates an institution significantly lacking in free speech.

In these cases, Georgetown typically cites its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization or its adherence to Catholic doctrine. However, the university has no clear basis for asking a GUTS driver to stop singing encouragement to passengers and should reverse this decision immediately.

Calloway’s particular case gives Georgetown an easy opportunity to promote interreligious dialogue while staying well within its own parameters for speech.

In an April 2017 video posted as part of the Unsung Heroes series, which aimed to share the stories of Georgetown’s employees, Calloway says his singing voice was gifted to him by God. In the same interview, Calloway explained his desire to spread joy in his day-to-day life.

“I just want to put a smile on somebody’s face, you know? Give somebody something else to think about for a few seconds or so,” Calloway said.

Georgetown cannot take the opportunity to hear uplifting encouragement — religious or not — away from an member of our community. Let Larry sing.

The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.

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19 Comments

  1. I enjoy hearing Larry sing on my morning and evening GUTS bus ride. He’s inspiring and motivational. If you’re so offended by his words then find another way to get to campus.

  2. Thanks for the article. I agree—let Larry sing!

  3. Let Larry sing!!!!!

  4. Mouayad Albonni says:

    Let Larry sing!!!

  5. Jordan Brown says:

    Let Larry sing!!! This article points out a good point that it is not Georgetown’s place to silence their employees. If his singing annoys you, wear earphones on your commute, or think about why his uplifting words and good intentions bother you.

  6. My day is made whenever Larry drives me to or from Georgetown. It is undeniable how caring and passionate he is—that is a difficult quality to find in those around us. Thank you, Larry! Let Larry sing!

  7. Let Larry sing! I stand for the dozens seeking to overturn Diann Smith’s unjust ruling.

    Larry has a wonderful voice – evidenced by the high honor bestowed upon him to belt out The National Anthem in front of thousands in attendance at the Capital One Arena and the millions watching worldwide on television, the Internet and otherwise at a contest involving the Wizards of Greater Washigton – a highly regarded, deeply respected, professional basketball team.

    As Hoyas, we are better than muzzling the voice on someone.

    Hoya Saxa,
    John

  8. I ride the GUTS bus everyday and I look forward to having Larry be my bus drive. We should support hin as he supports us, his passengers.

  9. In Some instances management Applies the old adage “the customer is always right” to all instances regardless of the situation. Unfortunately, in customer service-based Industries some complaints are frivolous, non- valid and should be disregarded. This appears to be one of those instances.

  10. Let Larry sing! I really enjoy his words of motivation on my bus ride. Georgetown is lucky to have such a special person in the community and it’s disappointing that someone is trying to diminish his voice.

  11. Shelly Habel says:

    I first had the pleasure of riding with Larry a few weeks ago. It was the middle of the day, one that wasn’t off to a great start, and my short ride from DuPont was the most enjoyable ride I’ve had on a GUTS bus in 20 years. I even emailed OTM to tell them what a pleasant surprise it was and how much I appreciated it.

    Let Larry sing!

  12. I love hearing Larry sing! It makes my day. I feel like the GUTS bus is full of stressed students, and he brightens their day with his voice. I remember hearing his voice for the first time. I turned off my music to listen to him. It really made me happy. His songs are uplifting and encouraging. Why stop that?

  13. Sorry – no. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. Georgetown is his employer and can make policies as they see fit. Do Georgetown staff have a dress code? If so, does that impinge on their rights?
    Would people be annoyed if a passenger began espousing their opinions on the bus? Almost definitely.
    Larry is free to find employment where his singing/preaching is allowed. A church, perhaps?

    • The thing is singing shouldn’t have consequences. What inconvenience does it cause? He’s a genuinely kind person and doesn’t deserve this.

    • Georgetown is literally a Jesuit institution. All Larry does is encourage people with his voice. He has been nothing but an amazing person. He doesn’t push his religion on anyone. His singing is not affecting anyone negatively.

    • Beth, relax. You’re free to wear headphones or earplugs. Or, I don’t know, walk and work off some of that negative energy! If a passenger begins “espousing their opinions” in your earshot, are you going to call the cops?

      Let Larry sing, if only because it will make people like Beth stew!

  14. I’m a relatively new graduate student here, and this city has been quite stressful on my emotional well-being. I frequently come home feeling depressed and weary. However, whenever I ride on Larry’s bus, his singing and joy for life always turns my day around.

    I think him, his music, and his spirit is a great benefit to the students of Georgetown. It would be a deep shame to make him stop.

  15. Let Larry Sing! It is not within the University’s right to silence an employee’s choice to uplift those around him, as Larry does through his signing and motivational talks.

    Hoya Saxa,
    Javier

  16. When I first listened to Larry singing, I took my earphones and enjoyed every single second of my ride with him.

    A couple of days ago he explained me he wasn’t allowed to sing anymore and I was extremely disappointed. What is wrong with uplifting those around him? This should not be an issue in an institution of these characteristics.

    LET LARRY SING!

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