Civil Discourse Double Standard

.@NotreDame's Unequal Justice Under the Golden Dome: Protect Chinese students from malicious slander but not faithful Catholics. #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet


After its utter silence in response to a horrific poster and video attacking faithfully Catholic members of the university this past fall, the Notre Dame administration responded to an incident of racist hate speech with remarkable swiftness. This stark contrast unveils the disappointing double standard the university follows when it comes to defending civil discourse. We detail this dichotomy in the bulletin below.

Snooze response to “anti-Catholic hate speech”

Last September, an act of hatred with overtones of violence against faithfully Catholic students, faculty, and alumni hit Notre Dame’s campus. A group of students set up a disturbing blood-red-smeared poster targeting individuals who had written articles defending the Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and homosexuality. (You can read more about it in our bulletins, Student Slander and Provocation Unchecked and Bullies 3, Notre Dame 0.)

At the time, the Irish Rover, Notre Dame’s independent student newspaper, reported,

The sign contained many articles from the Irish Rover and the Observer [the official student paper] which reflect Catholic doctrine regarding human sexuality, implying that the authors of these were responsible for the deaths of ‘queer’ people nationwide.

Emblazoned across the poster were the words “There is Queer Blood on Homophobic Hands” in blood-red paint, which also encircled the names of the targeted articles’ authors. 

When ND police took the poster down, its authors carried it to the Observer, with a free verse malediction using the same title as the poster, and on the Internet, with a video of one student reciting a version of the poem while another cudgels the poster of targeted articles and authors with a crowbar.

Both the malediction and the video attacked individual groups, including the Rover, Students for Child-Oriented Policy, and Sycamore Trust — all of which defend the Church’s teaching on sexual morality — and claimed their “homophobic discourse” caused the deaths of gay and transgender people.

A number of student leaders promptly called upon Father Jenkins to put a stop to these provocative attacks, which were aptly described by Notre Dame Law School professor Richard Garnett as “anti-Catholic hate speech.”

As the Irish Rover reported:

This incident prompted student leaders from more than five different student groups to write to Notre Dame’s President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, saying in part, “There is a palpably violent spirit to these signs. It feels, in a very real way, that someone has a target on the back of these members of our community, and on the publications their articles are featured in.” Worried for their safety, the safety of others, and the health of student life on campus, these students called on the University’s president to “offer a public reproof of the threatening sign placed on campus” and “affirm that our community will remain one of openness, civility, and love.”

Sycamore Trust expressed these same concerns in two letters to Father Jenkins, urging that the students responsible should be held accountable, and at the very least be required to take down the incendiary video. Both the video and the Observer piece, Sycamore Trust observed, violated Indiana’s intimidation law, which prohibits activity that incites violence or exposes someone “to hatred, contempt, disgrace, or ridicule.”

Scores of alumni joined Sycamore Trust in letters to Father Jenkins. 

The result: A shutout. Father Jenkins did not respond to students, to alumni, or to Sycamore Trust; nor did he denounce this flagrant breach of his trademark exhortation to civil discourse; nor did he hold the student traducers accountable. We know that because the inflammatory video is still up on the Internet (above). 

That bears repetition: The inflammatory video is still up on the Internet!

This unaccountable refusal by the priest-president of a Catholic university to stand up for students viciously assailed for defending Church teaching becomes even more alarming when compared to the university’s swift and severe response to a more recent incident of hate speech.

Rapid crackdown on racist anti-Chinese speech

This spring, the university came down fast and hard on a postdoctoral fellow for racist Facebook posts, making it clear that when certain students verbally attack others over certain issues, they face devastating consequences. 

In late March, a postdoctoral psychology Fellow posted virulent, profanity-laced tweets that targeted and blamed Chinese students for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Go the f**k home,” wrote Kathryn Ralph. “You are 1000000% to blame.”

Ralph also wrote a stinging reply to a Facebook post by a graduate student, Chang Che, who called for solidarity and peace from Asians.

“Ask your country representatives why they hid this disease,” wrote Ralph. “It was China. So [don’t] expect Americans to welcome you.”

According to the Observer, after another Ph.D. student’s mother-in-law drew more attention to the incident via her Facebook page, members of the Notre Dame Chinese community sent a letter to Fr. Jenkins and the administration, asking them to investigate.

Father Jenkins replied within hours expressing his deep concern and confirming that Ralph had already been dismissed from the university. “Such abusive behavior [as Ralph’s],” he wrote, “is deeply at odds with the values we uphold here at Notre Dame,”

Ralph’s dismissal was especially consequential. The 5+1 Postdoctoral Fellowship Program she had been in provides extraordinary benefits to its members, including salary, full Notre Dame staff benefits, and professional development funds.

On top of this, Ralph lost her outside job at a non-profit organization.

In short, Ralph’s ouster from the university cost her her livelihood and doubtless severely damaged, if it did not end, her professional career.

However much Ralph’s actions deserved disciplinary action, the contrast between Fr. Jenkins’s denunciation and the severe punishment visited on her, on the one hand, and, on the other, the silent tolerance Fr. Jenkins and the university accorded the defamation of student and alumni defenders of Church teaching is both startling and revelatory.

Conclusion – The Power of Political Correctness.

When Bill Dempsey appeared on Laura Ingraham’s talk show to discuss the “Queer Blood on Homophobic Hands” scandal, at one point Ingraham asked, 

“What if the targeted groups had been more ‘politically correct’?”

Dempsey replied that in such a case the attacking students “would have been out of the dormitories with their computers thrown out the window after them as soon as [news of their actions] hit the main building!” 

Now, just a few months later, the case of Kathryn Ralph has proved him right. 

The stark contrast in Notre Dame’s response to PC versus non-PC issues, to racism versus Catholic teaching on sexuality, highlights the selective nature of Notre Dame’s commitment to civil discourse. It shows that the Notre Dame administration is perfectly willing to defend civil discourse — so long as it falls in line with popular opinion. But when protecting civil discourse means standing up for Catholic teaching on sexual morality, the university has been, sadly, a poor standard bearer.

By Sophia Martinson, ’18

During her time at Notre Dame, Sophia Martinson (’18) led the Irish Rover student newspaper as editor-in-chief and was also involved in Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) and the Edith Stein Project conference. After graduating, she worked as an editorial assistant at the Weekly Standard and a research assistant at a think tank in Washington, DC. She currently resides in New York with her husband, Jim Martinson (’19). Both Sophie and Jim were recipients of Sycamore Trust’s Annual Student Award for their contributions to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.


The politicization of the Notre Dame Police Department 

On the chance that the NDPD would feel obliged to investigate a complaint about an evident violation of the law by students on campus and that this would prompt Father Jenkins to act, Sycamore Trust filed a complaint with the Department. See our letter to Chief Keri Kei Shibata describing how the students “appear plainly to have violated the Indiana ‘intimidation statute.” We explained that we filed the complaint “only because Father Jenkins has remained silent in the face of this reprehensible and provocative behavior.” 

Chief Shibata did not even acknowledge receiving our letter.

But when a racial and sexual slur episode broke last year about the same time, the administration was quick to announce that the NDPD was investigating. 

Faculty Voices

In that racial slur case, 132 members of the faculty and staff denounced in The Observer “the sexist, racist and homophobic abuse.”

In contrast, in the “Queer Blood” case, but a single faculty member denounced (in Mirror of Justice) the vilification of Catholic students and organizations for supporting Church teaching on gender and sex.

Vita Institute Event, Vita Institute Event

On a happier note, the De Nicola Center for Ethics & Culture has announced that the annual five day program of the Vita Institute, beginning June 15 will be available for Internet participation by registrants. This is a premier pro-life event consisting of 75-minute lectures accompanied by live Q&A that “will explore the philosophical, biological, legal, theological, and sociological foundations of the pro-life issues with a focus on the beginning of life.”

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If you are like us and want to see an authentic Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please consider lending a hand by making a donation to Sycamore Trust.

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