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What's happening to First Amendment freedoms on campus?

Fr. Greg Shaffer (Image: GW Hatchet)

In our nation's capital, an institution of higher learning named for our nation's first president is failing to defend the rights its namesake once fought for.

Controversy is stirring on the campus of The George Washington University this week after a group of students lodged a complaint against Father Greg Shaffer, the Roman Catholic priest and leader of the Newman Catholic Student Center on campus. Shaffer has spent five years preaching the Catholic faith to GW students, but now students are objecting to his "strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views."

In other words, as Mary Katharine Ham notes, the students are trying to oust the priest after realizing he's... Catholic.

Fr. Greg Shaffer (Image: GW Hatchet)

The school's student newspaper, The Hatchet, has the details:

[Seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen] lambasted Shaffer’s counseling sessions, in which he said he advises students who are attracted to members of the same sex to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. They also criticized the priest for a fiery blog post he wrote last May, calling gay relationships "unnatural and immoral" after President Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage.  [...]

Legacy and Bergen will deliver a letter this week to top administrators including University President Steven Knapp, citing academic studies that link harmful psychological effects, like the inability to sleep and loss of appetite, with being around homophobic behavior.

GW's Office for Diversity and Inclusion is already reviewing the case, after Legacy submitted a report last semester that outlined how other schools vet religious leaders before bringing them to campus.

I was a student at GW back in the day and an active member of the Newman Center during my time on campus.  The Newman Center is a wonderful organization that fostered a real sense of community rooted in faith and fellowship.  It's with a heavy heart that I read things like this:

“We have to appeal to [Fr. Shaffer]. In the end, he’s the one preaching on Sunday. He’s the one counseling these students,” Legacy said. “The money doesn't matter to him, but when you see the faces of the people you’re turning away, you see the people who say ‘Oh, I would go to church all the time, but I don’t like Father Greg.’ When you meet them at their level, that’s going to hit them harder because it’s something they’re going to understand.”

The great thing about the Newman Center and similar Christian organizations is that they "turn away" no one.  The truth of the matter is that these individuals feel offended by traditional church doctrine and choose to leave.

The animosity of these students and their complaint are appalling and it's scary to know that GW and, no doubt, countless other universities are taking complaint like this seriously.  This only reflects academia's own animus toward religious institutions whose teachings don't comply with today's politically correct collegiate curriculum.

In my mind, the sad situation involving Fr. Shaffer and the Newman Center is part of a larger assault on the First Amendment.   College campuses used to be places of diverse thinking and open debate.  But as a conservative who studied on a liberal campus, I can tell you that interest in opposing views is dwindling -- and too-frequently missing altogether.

You might recall another post I wrote which involved another GW student back in the Fall of 2011.  In that story, I exposed the lies of a law student caught on tape protesting with Occupy Wall Street in New York City.  At the time, I worked part-time for the university's law school career office -- a continuing job I'd held for years from my undergrad days.  But just two weeks after my story about the OWS protester was published, I received a termination letter from the university.  No facts in my story were contested; there was no wrongdoing on my part.  I had reported the truth, but that truth shed "a negative light" on the university and its students.   I exercised my First Amendment rights and, for that, I was fired (from a school of law, of all places).

My heart goes out to Fr. Shaffer and the other students and staff of the GW Newman Center.  I know what it's like to stand up for what you believe in, even when it means you'll be shown the door.  It's unfortunate that I was fired from my job at GW after six years, but I have never regretted writing that story or standing by my work under fire.

I hope that if enough of us speak up for our rights, something will change.

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