Debates over speech policy at Georgetown typically involve restrictions on student clubs that promote values not aligned with the Catholic Church. But those roles took an unusual twist recently at The George Washington University.
Two gay seniors, claiming they felt alienated by a campus priest and his stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality, launched a campaign last week to have him fired.
These students’ attempt to remove Fr. Greg Shaffer demonstrates a troubling disregard for the value of free speech. The priest has a right to voice his opinion on same-sex marriage, whether that be in his sermons or on the blog he maintains, and the students could not provide any substantive evidence of abusive speech or behavior.
Shaffer is not a professor, and his opinion — that gay people should remain celibate and that marriage is an institution reserved for heterosexual couples — is in line with the church he is paid to represent by GWU. His beliefs, regardless of their popularity, are protected speech — something especially valuable on a college campus.
As a university, GWU should be committed to bringing together different beliefs and voices. The university would be abandoning its responsibility to protect free speech if it were to dismiss a religious figure for simply expressing his view on a contentious subject.
This is not an issue of whether gay couples have a right to marry or if the Catholic Church has taken the proper stance on the subject. There must be open discussion at universities, and it is the university’s role to promote that freedom. These two students ought to recognize that suppressing unpopular views is not a solution to but a primary cause of the discrimination they seek to combat.