Liberal Education, Religious Freedom, And Weak Arguments (Updated Again)

UofSoFlaOriginally Published October 8, 2013. Updates below.

The University of South Florida is at the center of another debate about religious freedom (HT: David Murray). This time it involves a planned event at which Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a former Lesbian, is to speak about sexuality and Christianity. According to a news report in The Oracle, the campus paper, the event is sponsored by RUF, which the reporter hastens to add, does not receive student-paid activity fees, has “drawn much concern” because Dr. Butterfield has allegedly made allusions in the past to conversion therapy. The reporter provides no substantiation for this suggestion but goes on to define it as the “practice of trying to subvert non-heterosexualities that has been frowned upon by the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association and declared illegal in some states.”

So, let’s get this straight, if you’ll pardon the term: it’s illegal to subvert non-heterosexualities but it’s perfectly acceptable, within campus speech codes, to subvert heterosexuality? Double standard anyone? The sexual libertines have been subverting heterosexuality for decades in the West and at the first sign of a counter-insurgency, they panic. One might get the impression that they are not very secure in their non-heterosexuality.

More concerning is the attitude expressed by an undergraduate who worries that such an event might be “detrimental” (the reporter’s term) to students who may be questioning their sexualities or identity as part of the LGBT community. If homosexuality, bi-sexuality, if being “transgendered” is just as natural as homosexuality, how could a speech change that? Perhaps the fear that speech might change that suggests that those who say that non-heterosexuality is normal and natural don’t really believe their own rhetoric. Perhaps they know, in their conscience and experience, that non-heterosexualities are a form of rebellion against the Creator and the created order?

The student says,

It’s a big deal because by USF allowing (the speaker) to preach some kind of hateful and discriminatory message, they are implicitly condoning that it is OK and that they are going to stand for that kind of speech and actions, when the university is everything against that.

The fact that some today apparently find this way of thinking persuasive is troubling.

In a free, civil society there are limits to free speech. One is not allowed to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater but one certainly is permitted to challenge the reigning orthodoxies and this is especially true on university campuses, which are meant to be bastions of free thought and genuine liberalism (toleration of various points of view). We need to recognize the way in which she seeks to silence dissent by appealing to possible subjective consequences of words. This really is an Orwellian dystopia. Before this undergrad coed has ever heard Dr. Butterfield she knows that what she is about to say is “hateful” and dangerous. The sort of paranoia we used to associate with a certain Senator from Wisconsin: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?” is now a regular feature of academic life.

This undergrad probably doesn’t remember that it wasn’t very long ago that homosexual acts were illegal in all states. Sodomy is still illegal in several states. She probably doesn’t know that as recently as the 1960s, the APA viewed homosexuality as disorder. So did Martin Luther King.

Were this undergrad and her cohorts really liberal and tolerant, she would be enthusiastic to hear Dr. Butterfield and to her testimony about her experience. After all, isn’t experience the queen of all things now? On what basis can this undergrad know a priori that Dr. Butterfield wasn’t a Lesbian and that she hasn’t become heterosexual? It happened. Were the undergrad really open-minded she would be anxious to know what happened and how.

Congratulations to Dean of Students, Michael Freeman for standing up for that good, old-fashioned idea of free speech on on the university campus. Perhaps he’ll have an opportunity to speak with those panicked profs and students who are worried about a genuine diversity of ideas, who apparently  completely misunderstand the nature of the university. It is not a factory cranking out leftist orthodoxy. A university is meant to be a place where ideas meet and compete.

Religious folk of all sorts should be concerned about the consequences of the narrow and ignorant thinking articulated by this student. She reflects her education. She’s been catechized in a political correctness that has established parameters of acceptable emotional outcomes and uses the mere possibility of those outcomes as a basis for limiting religious speech. Religious speech, however, is often upsetting. Some of us even think that it is one of the principal functions of religious speech to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. In other words, one of the desired outcomes is to move the affections. 

This evident fear of ideological competition and the swift appeal to bureaucratic authority to silence dissent reveals something about the inherent intellectual weakness of the new orthodoxy. It is afraid of challenges and it should be because it will crumble on close inspection.


The event seems to have been profitable and Dr. Butterfield was her charming and disarming self. Here’s The Oracle‘s coverage of the event (HT: Carl Trueman)

UPDATE October 10, 2013

Jeff Lee, the RUF Campus Minister at USF has a report on the Aquila Report.

This paragraph is particularly interesting:

On Tuesday Rosaria and I spent 4 hours sitting in a Starbucks on campus interacting with students who had questions from Monday night. For these 4 solid hours we had a group of 10-12 students sitting in a circle discussing theology, sin, canon, justification, sexual identity, personal experiences and more. The group changed as some students had to leave for class and others joined us after classes ended, but the size remained about the same.

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  1. “… panicked profs and students who are worried about a genuine diversity of ideas, who apparently completely misunderstand the nature of the university. It is not a factory cranking out leftist orthodoxy. A university is meant to be a place where ideas meet and compete …”

    But they are factories of leftist orthodoxy, or at least that’s what they’ve become according to this author/commentator:
    He explains how they got that way; what anyone can do to change things is another matter. Certainly, he gives his views on the matter, but I’m not sure that much of anything will work nowadays.

    • George,

      I think that is largely true. The current ideological regime has a political (in the broad sense) advantage. This life is their heaven. Thus, all they do is complain and agitate. The opposition is distracted by real life (paying the bills, raising children etc). From a tactical pod it’s a one-sided battle. Nevertheless, if we take the long view we might not be as pessimistic as we are when we take the short view. We can resist the reigning ideology by holding it with its advocates to account for their stated desire for “diversity” and “tolerance.” The manifest contradiction between speech codes and genuine liberalism (in the best) sense is one of our stronger arguments.

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