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Harvard response to black mass was properly weighted

May 14, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
We live in an age where everything has the potential to become a worldwide sensation, from the conduct of a celebrity chef in a deposition to a civil suit that eventually gets dismissed, to the recorded statement of an out-of-touch NBA owner, to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls on another continent.

It’s the electronic expansion of the need to leave flowers at the palace gates by thousands of people when Princess Diana died, or to make the pilgrimage to Graceland for Elvis fans.

In the grand scheme of things, the whole Twitterverse protest movement means nothing. We cannot, after all, save the schoolgirls ourselves or dump Donald Stirling from the NBA’s ownership ranks. Others have to act.

I do, however, think what we choose to take to Twitter or whatever our favorite Internet movement system might be, says something about American society.

Case in point: The so-called black mass that was scheduled for the Harvard college campus by a college-based organization.

Get this straight. This might be couched as “free speech” in the way that Klan rallies and that annoying jerk in the office who says everything possible just to get under your skin until you file a formal complaint that ostracizes you from everyone else in the office is free speech. But it’s a patently offensive act to Catholics. It takes the centerpiece of the religion, stands it on its head and insults it.

Despite all the gunfiring whackos, Americans faced with a real issue will prefer just to tweet or leave flowers at the gate.

Thus it was refreshing that, absent great amounts of attention or a Twittersphere hashtag worthy of a worldwide movement, the president of Harvard eloquently addressed the situation this week, as if a president of Harvard should be anything but eloquent; however, this one actually had common sense beyond brainiac levels of command of the English language.

After noting that vigorous discussion and debate are necessary to pursue knowledge (we do less and less of that as we seek out only information that supports our position, and declare the hell with everything and anyone else), Harvard President Drew Faust stated:

“But even as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree. The 'black mass' had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory.

“Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.

“I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul's Church on our campus on Monday evening in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.”

We need to clone this guy and make him superintendent of every school district and president of every college. You can debate, but you must know that when you jab someone right between their religious eyes, you can expect a reaction. Words and expression have weight and consequences. People have long forgotten that as the U.S. increasingly moves toward allowing one to cry “Fire!” in the crowded theater. Or at least to have the permission to fire one’s AR-15 in the crowded movie theater, shooting many in the name of shooting the guy who was shooting everyone else.

By the way, the event was canceled by the student group and held by the devilish folks at some off-campus bar, without desecrating a consecrated host.

A victory of sorts without the Twittering outcry. Something actually was heard, positions were made clear and the course of events was changed.


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