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.”

Leave a Reply

 Let us know what you think about the issues we’ve raised in this bulletin in the comments below. And help to spread the word by sharing this bulletin with others who care about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. 

Every Penny Helps!

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.


11 Responses to “Civil Discourse Double Standard”

  1. Jeff Banas, '81 June 30, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    The double standard merely reflects what is important to the administration. Sadly, Fr. Jenkins and university officials long ago made it clear that they have no genuine commitment to Catholicism. The question that remains is how much longer they will tolerate those who do.

    I used to wonder why ‘lukewarmness’ was the sin that God loathed most. Now I understand.

  2. Maria B Brady June 17, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Do you all send this newsletter directly to his office? Does he tell his staff to trash it?
    Is there no annual meeting scheduled with him? I find it necessary to just get a foot in his world!
    Betty Brady

    • Maria, our bulletins are sent directly to Fr. Jenkins’s office, and on this issue, as we said above, we wrote him and when we received no response scores of alumni wrote as well. He did not reply to them, nor to the student organizations who asked him to vindicate the right of students to support Church teaching on sex and gender. He is unwilling to engage with anyone on the matter. Bill Dempsey

  3. Fr Jenkins nes to tell the VP of Enrollment inform new students that they have given up their right to free speech and assembly when they are on the ND campus.

    James Shapiro 52

  4. George P Shelton Class of 1974 June 13, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    The only way to fix this is retire Father Jenkins and “his squad”

  5. Neil B Connelly '74 June 13, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Like Kevin Callahan, I no longer contribute to my alma mater because of Jenkins’ abandonment of Notre Dame’s core values. I hold no great hope for any change in the administration’s pharisee-like conduct unless the alumni stop monetarily supporting Jenkins and the Board. Money is all they recognize.

  6. Judge Scalia brought this idea up years ago and it is something we all need to consider. It is called VIEWPOINT DISCRIMINATION and it is something we are seeing more and more of today. It is a reality, like it or not and each of us needs to have the courage to look at ourselves and ask ourselves are we guilty of it or not. We are certainly capable of this sin, all of us are so do not fool yourself and think you cannot sin as such. Why aren’t leaders at our universities, leaders in our church helping ALL of us understand and gain truth? There is nothing wrong with questions that seek understanding and any true Christian will strive to help ALL souls gain understanding as such. Jesus never refused to answer a question so why are some in the church refusing to answer them? Jesus went out to ALL souls, as he sought to save every soul (tax collectors, all lost sheep), so why are we not seeing leaders in the church reaching out to souls that they apparently have judged as lost, people like President Donald Trump. Why isn’t the Pope and people like Archbishop Gregory reaching out to Trump, seeking more ways to save him like they are supposed to be saving ALL of us? We must get out of this them vs us attitude as it is part of what happens when we are deeper into self serving than we really are aware of, more into self serving and self centeredness than God centeredness than we even realize.

  7. “… I am certain there are thousands of human beings who changed their lives after an encounter with Mother Teresa.”
    “Man is created in order to love and be loved.”
    “When they see your good works, may they give glory to God…”

    Source: Mother Teresa of Calcutta A Personal Portrait, Leo Maasburg, 2011, Ignatius Press, San Francisco

    (Perhaps Saint Teresa of Calcutta can help us find the way forward. She de-escalated​ conflict. She saw the face of Jesus in every human person.)

  8. Jim Thunder, ’72
    Fr Jenkins was re-elected in October 2019 to a 4th term that begins in two weeks, July 1, 2020. We’re stuck with him and the Fellows that elected him for another 5 years!

  9. Kevin Callahan June 13, 2020 at 7:02 am

    I graduated from Notre Dame with an MBA in 2005. I consistently gave through the Cardinal O’Hara Society every year until 2019. After Fr. Jenkins announced the covering of the Columbus paintings in the Main Building, I resigned from the O’Hara Society, sending both them and Fr. Jenkins letters explaining why. Fr. Jenkins answer to my letter clearly showed me that to him being politically correct is more important than being Catholic. At the time of this incident, I realized my decision to donate no more was correct. I urge all concerned alumni to withhold donations. I fear that I will have to continue to withhold, at least until Fr. Jenkins is no longer president of the University.

  10. ronald herman June 13, 2020 at 6:56 am

    father jenkins is a disgrace. we need a new president. ronald herman MD

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