Georgetown University should prioritize free speech over religious policy by recognizing H*yas for Choice, a pro-reproductive rights student group.
As a university, Georgetown must commit to the free exchange of ideas, rather than prioritizing one belief over another. Club funding must not be based on viewpoint or ideology, despite the university’s adherence to Catholic doctrine.
In fact, Georgetown’s own free speech guidelines emphasize the importance of diverse viewpoints in campus discourse, whether or not those viewpoints align with Catholic teachings.
The university’s Speech and Expression Policy links free speech with exploration of Catholic thought: “Jesuit principles … [and] the vision of our founder, John Carroll … prohibit any limitation upon discourse.”
Student group funding should be governed by the same open-minded speech policy given to students. Yet, Georgetown’s rules for recognizing clubs are for more stringent than Carroll might have hoped.
Club recognition is accompanied by benefits such as funding from the Student Activities Commission, the ability to table during the Council of Advisory Board fair and opportunities to reserve space on campus for meetings or speakers.
As one of several unrecognized student groups at Georgetown, H*yas for Choice has none of these privileges: Its promotion is done exclusively in Red Square and other free-speech zones on campus, while its work is funded primarily by “donations from alumni, families, parents [and] faculty,” according to Michaela Lewis (COL ’18), a co-president of H*yas for Choice, in an email to The Hoya.
H*yas for Choice was not always relegated to the ranks of the unrecognized. Georgetown formally recognized the group, then known as GU Choice, in 1991, noting the importance of a nondiscriminatory, free speech-based approach to club approval.
In an open letter to the campus, then-Dean of Student Affairs and now-University President John J. DeGioia wrote of his intention “to balance at Georgetown a commitment to the free exchange of ideas with a 200-year commitment to the moral tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.”
GU Choice’s recognition lasted 14 months: Then-University President Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J., announced the university’s decision to revoke the group’s status April 24, 1992. O’Donovan said disagreement within the Jesuit community added to his reconsideration of GU Choice’s status: “You can be sure that the Jesuits don’t like to see conflict between a local cardinal and the Jesuit community.”
While Georgetown should surely use its Jesuit values as a framework for education and student life, the university should not use religious doctrine to regulate student behavior.
Recently, Georgetown has prioritized the diverse identities of its students over its Catholic identity: In 2008, Georgetown became the first Catholic university to have an LGBTQ resource center.
Unfortunately, recent decisions regarding club recognition have demonstrated the limits of Georgetown’s commitment to promoting the various perspectives of its students.
Last semester, the university decided to continue funding Love Saxa, a pro-traditional marriage group defined in the eyes of many by institutional bigotry. The group drew broad criticism from students who found its mission homophobic. Student LGBTQ activists Chad Gasman (COL ’20) and Jasmin Ouseph (SFS ’19) challenged Love Saxa’s funding on these grounds in an October 2017 SAC hearing.
While the university administration did not explicitly take a side in the debate, Senior Director for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh told The Hoya in October, “We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic identity.”
Because of its beliefs and practices, H*yas for Choice has been denied the freedoms granted to Love Saxa, whose mission closely matches Catholic doctrine. For a university to openly silence a student group based on whether or not it aligns with Catholic or Jesuit values is not only wrong — it is in violation of Georgetown’s own speech policies.
Georgetown has already shown courage in crafting its own identity separate from religion. Now, it must reaffirm this courage and protect the free exchange of ideas by recognizing H*yas for Choice once again.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.