Dr. Myers has pretty much summed up the story here. The following are letters I’ve sent to various individuals in the name of protecting academic integrity. Also, after reading I urge you to do the same.
Dear President Bruininks,
I am writing you on behalf of Dr. Myers and myself as a member of the academic community. I was prepared to just ignore the issue of Mr. Donohue and the Catholic League trying to have Dr. Myers fired as I consider this to be an unlikely scenario (unless politicians get involved). This was until I learned that the university had removed links to Dr. Myers’ blog from the website. It does not bold well of academia when pressure from religious groups trumps the first amendment and the right to protest.
Already Mr. Donohue is taking the removal of the link as a sign of victory and believes that this is only the first step towards further censorship of Dr. Myers, opinions contrary to Catholic Doctrine, and legitimate protest. I would hope that the University of Minnesota will not set precedent for the censorship of those in academia who choose to speak out and protest against religious doctrines and practices. Academia is one of the few remaining bastions of the free exchange of ideas and academic honesty. The practice of censoring ones opinions due to them being unpopular with a majority of people would only hinder the academic process and the free exchange of ideas. Dr. Myers has a legitimate right to protest the actions of the Catholic League and other Catholics in regards to their treatment of Mr. Cook. I have already written to UCF President Hitt to urge him to defend Mr. Cook and the academic process as well.
Academia should not consider some ideas, such as the idea that a wheat based wafer is more than just a wheat based wafer, off-limits because a large mass of people consider it to be so. Academia is about challenging those ideas and testing them. Dr. Myers has a legitimate duty to academia to interrogate the ideology of the Eucharist and to investigate the idea that the Eucharist is just a wheat wafer and nothing more. I should hope that the processes I hold dear for interrogating the ideology of the world would not be hindered because individuals find this offensive.
I would ask on behalf of academia that you have Dr. Myers’ link restored. I would also ask, that given your highly regarded position, that you make an effort to contact President Hitt and urge him to defend the principles of academia, the first amendment, and the right to protest. It would not bode well for the state of academia should Dr. Myers of Mr. Cook be removed over their legitimate criticism due to pressure from those offended.
Thank you for your time.
Jeff Van Booven
Missouri State University
P.S. You understandably are having to read a lot of e-mails and so I hope that you are otherwise having a pleasant day.
Dear President Hitt,
I am writing on the behalf of Mr. Cook as a fellow academic. Without knowing the full details of the events that transpired beyond media news stories I cannot present my case without some bias. I do, however, feel that enough of the story was presented from me to legitimately express my concerns as to actions that may be taken against Mr. Cook. Specifically it is my concern that his academic career is unduly and unfairly threatened.
First off it would seem that the reaction on the part of the Catholics, especially those calling for the expulsion of Mr. Cook, namely the Catholic League (as well as Fox News, though not specifically Catholic), have taken a great deal of leeway between the actions of Mr. Cook and their interpretation of those actions. Take Mr. Donohue’s comments for example.
“For a student to disrupt Mass by taking the Body of Christ hostage—regardless of the alleged nature of his grievance—is beyond hate speech. That is why the UCF administration needs to act swiftly and decisively in seeing that justice is done. All options should be on the table, including expulsion.”
I should think it would be prudent of Mr. Donohue to also note that Mr. Cook did not disrupt Mass in any noticeable way until he was physically accosted by a member of the congregation. I would also think he should note that the Eucharist was freely given to Mr. Cook. There was no disruption until the congregation made a disruption by their physical actions against Mr. Cook. Secondly, to consider this a hostage situation is a gross overstatement. All Mr. Cook has is a an item that was given to him. You cannot hold something hostage which was given to you freely.
Even if Mr. Cook was holding the wafer as part of protest it should be considered a legitimate protest covered by his first amendment rights. Remember, the church freely gave him the Eucharist and created the disruption thereafter. My concern is that these organizations are pushing to censure Mr. Cook’s first amendment rights to protest in the guise of labeling Mr. Cook’s actions as hate speech. Mr. Cook has not in any of the reports, including those of Mr. Donohue, said anything negative of the Catholic Church. He has not tried to deny them the right to practice their religion. None of his actions have been in any form hateful.
Mr. Cook as well as any other American has the right to protest the actions and doctrines of the Catholic Church just as well as the Catholic Church has a right to protest against the practices and beliefs of others. What they should not be given is leeway to claim persecution when one exercises their right to challenge doctrines and belief. It is of my opinion that disciplinary action against Mr. Cook would not only be a violation of his rights but also a degradation of academia as well.
As members of such a group it would reflect poorly on us to cave to pressure from religious groups rather than stand up for the open and free exchange of ideas. Action against Mr. Cook would allow precedent for the censure of others in academia as well. Already Mr. Donohue and the Catholic League are trying to have P.Z. Myers fired for voicing his opinion on the matter at hand. The league is not looking to protect themselves from hate speech but rather to establish censorship of opinions contrary to their beliefs. I ask that you not bow to such pressure and stand up for the right of free expression. Should, however, Mr. Cook be expelled and/or receive disciplinary action then it would only be fair that the Catholic group be removed from campus or receive similar disciplinary action for their part in the physical assault against Mr. Cook.
Furthermore, I am worried about the use of armed officers being used to protect the Eucharist. As I have previously stated, the Church freely gives out the Eucharist. The threat of armed intervention against the non-consummation of a Eucharist that was freely given to an individual hardly seems like an acceptable practice of an institution of higher education. I think it would be more appropriate that the Catholic Church be informed that if they wish to dispense the Eucharist freely that they risk people walking out with it. If they don’t wish it to be taken out of the church then it is their right to refuse to give it to individuals. Once it is given out it is no longer their property. I am appalled by the insinuation that your university would commit such a draconian action as to physically apprehend/accost an individual who is not committing a crime and is expressing his or her right of free expression. The students of your university should not be made to feel as though their freedom of speech is being compromised. It threatens the very basis of academia itself.
Thank you for your time.
Jeff Van Booven
Missouri State University
Respectively their e-mails are.
UMN’s president Robert Bruininks: Bruin001@umn.edu
UCF’s president John Hitt: email@example.com