Believers who stray made to pay

December 4, 1998


Some American universities and colleges with religious affiliations have come under attack for endangering academic freedom by acting upon their beliefs.

One Catholic college cancelled an appearance by the governor of New Jersey because she supports abortion rights; an evangelical school has threatened to bring trespassing charges against a gay alumnus if he sets foot on the campus; and a professor at an evangelical university who converted to Judaism has been fired.

The actions reflect a policy proposed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference that encourages Roman Catholic colleges and universities to appoint only "faithful" Catholics as professors and trustees, and demands an "oath of fidelity" to the church from theology teachers.

The proposals have been greeted with widespread condemnation, including from some religious organisations and officials.

Sister Karen Kennelly, president of Mount Saint Mary's College in Los Angeles, said Americans have "an adverse reaction to loyalty oaths. Every instinct we have says if you have to have an oath to guarantee your intellectual honesty, it is not worth it."

Nine American bishops also objected to the proposal, which is intended to conform with Pope John Paul II's 1990 Ex corde Ecclesiae document to Catholic-affiliated US universities and colleges, while many of the universities and colleges affected said they would find it difficult to recruit and retain faculty if the draft proposal is approved. A decision is expected next autumn.

Monika Hellwig, director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, agreed that the rules would be difficult to implement: "Who interprets what a faithful Catholic is? Can you hire someone who is divorced and is remarried? Can you hire someone who is in the Catholic tradition, but doesn't actually show up in church every Sunday?" However, some religious-affiliated schools are cracking down on dissent. Catholic Seton Hall University ordered an event sponsored by law students in honour of New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman to be moved off campus because she supports abortion rights.

Governor Whitman received the award, which honours women who promote dialogue on contemporary legal and public-policy issues, at a club next door to the campus.

University president Monsignor Robert Sheeran said: "Seton Hall has a clearly stated policy that no public recognition is given to those espousing positions contrary to our Catholic mission. This includes those publicly supporting pro-choice views."

Such decisions are not unique. A professor at evangelical Malone College was forced to resign when she converted to Judaism. The school said Sue Misheff, who taught English, violated the college's requirement that full-time faculty members be committed Christians. Malone officials gave Dr Misheff a severance package of a year's salary and full benefits.

The non-denominational Christian Bob Jones University has sent a letter to alumnus and retired minister Wayne W. Mouritzen saying that because he is gay he would be arrested for trespassing if he goes on campus.

Mr Mouritzen said he had kept his gay identity a secret, but the school apparently intercepted a private email message to a friend in which he discussed his homosexuality. Jonathan Pait, a university spokesman, said Bob Jones did not allow gay people on the campus because they had strayed from its religious teachings.

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