Defending a religion or a religious position sometimes can lead to difficulties.
For instance, the other day my former Kansas City Star colleague Mary Sanchez wrote this column about a move among some on the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., to force the college to withdraw a commencement speaking invitation to Rep. Paul Ryan (pictured here), former vice presidential candidate on the Mitt Romney GOP ticket.
Some graduates, faculty members and others who disagree with Ryan's approach to federal budget matters (they think it violates Catholic social teaching and that Ryan, as a Catholic, should know better) are trying to get the invitation nixed.
All of this reminds me of what happened to me in 2000 at St. Mary College (now the University of St. Mary) in Leavenworth, Kan.
I was asked to give the commencement address and, in the process, to receive an honorary doctorate. I was honored to say yes and did.
And I set about writing a speech in which I talked a lot about Mary, mother of Jesus, a name the graduates would carry with them the rest of their lives.
Even before I had said yes to the invitation, The Kansas City Star, my employer, published a series of articles about AIDS in the Catholic priesthood. It was a great series but I had nothing to do with reporting it or publishing it.
Soon after the series ran, I got a call from the president of the college saying he and the president of the board wanted to meet with me in my office. So they made the trip to KC to disinvite me because some Catholics were angry at The Star for publishing the AIDS series.
It was a ridiculous decision and I told the men so. Not only that, but I told them that I would feel obligated to write a column about the matter and that they would look foolish in that column, I did and they did. (You can find that column on page 209 of my first book, A Gift of Meaning.)
Not only that, but because I already had written the speech, we posted it on The Star's website and it got a whole lot more exposure than it would have had I simply delivered it in person at St. Mary. In fact, one of the faculty members there (the faculty, by the way, voted almost unanimously to criticize the board for disinviting me) used my speech as the basis of the final exam for her class.
My point is that people seeking to make religious points for public consumption should think through the possible ramifications of their actions. Disinviting me wound up as an embarrassment for St. Mary. My guess is that disinviting Paul Ryan would embarrass Benedictine College.
Let him come. And then argue the merits of whatever he says. Silencing people, it turns out, almost never changes their minds.
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CALLING OUT RELIGIOUS OPPRESSORS
Later this week here I'll be writing more about international religious freedom concerns, but today I want to tell you of the release this week of the annaul report on this subject by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. You can read about that report here. And you can read the report itself here. I like USCIRF's idea of focusing for the first time not just on individual countries but also non-governmental organizations.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column is now online. To read it, click here.