Reconcile Speech, Values

In a summer interview with The Hoya, serialized these past two weeks, former University President Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J., upheld the importance of Catholic belief and free speech on campus. O’Donovan explained that while he thought the Second Vatican Council was correct in speaking of abortion as something intrinsically wrong, he still believes in freedom — not suppression — of speech. O’Donovan’s words illuminate the unique identity embodied by the university. Both students and administrators must continue to uphold the continuity between Catholic belief and free speech at Georgetown in the face of illegitimate opposition.

Conservative critics fail to realize what O’Donovan makes clear: Georgetown’s Jesuit values exist in harmony with and benefit from healthy dialogue on campus. Publications such as that of The Cardinal Newman Society or The Georgetown Academy consistently challenge the university for not being “Catholic enough.” These watchdog organizations urge Georgetown either to “stay true to its values” or to renounce its Catholic identity, citing the existence of liberal student groups as proof of irreconcilable deviancy on the Hilltop.

In reality, defending free speech on campus is necessary for the expression of Georgetown’s core identity. Becoming “men and women for others” means learning to respect and engage with views the community might not initially understand. Creating a diverse or inclusive campus culture means giving voice to a plurality of opinions and lifestyles. Despite the condemnation of alarmist watchdogs, the notion that some ultimate and urgent tradeoff between Catholic doctrine and free speech exists is a fallacy.

At the same time, administration actions that obscure certain student groups for seemingly violating Catholic belief, through a withdrawal of university recognition undermines the community’s Jesuit spirit and lends strength to the argument that there is a zero-sum choice between Catholic identity and free choice. Therefore, rather than advising students to refrain from “over chalking” Red Square in their enthusiasm, the administration should celebrate and foster robust speech and expression on campus.

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