Can the Archbishop Hit a Three?
A controversy at St. Louis University about academic freedom is fascinating. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said that SLU basketball coach Rick Majerus should be disciplined for expressing support for abortion rights and stem cell research in an interview supporting Hillary Clinton. According to the Archbishop, "When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don't have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches. But you can't make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic church."
The St. Louis University story is a good test of our principles. Even overpaid celebrity basketball coaches have academic freedom. And although Majerus’ team can’t score and he’s backing the wrong candidate for president, he still deserves academic freedom to speak out publicly about his view. The fact that this is a Catholic university is irrelevant; every college ought to protect academic freedom by the nature of being a college. I wish the SLU administration would openly denounce the archbishop’s repressive efforts and declare the freedom of all students, faculty, and staff, but that kind of courage is too much to expect anymore in higher education.
But the arena subsidy story is very interesting. Of course, it’s ridiculous that any private basketball arena should be subsidized by taxpayers. But the religious character of the basketball arena (it amuses me to write that line) should not matter. I believe that the Missouri Constitution is, well, unconstitutional under the US Constitution (which is a superior authority) when it bans funding for any “college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever." The government should treat all private colleges equally. For the government to entertain an inquiry into whether a college is “controlled” by religious authority or “creed” is precisely the danger of government controlling religion that the First Amendment is intended to stop. Imagine if the government ordered a college to stop teaching religion classes or face a cut-off of public funds. St. Louis University should protect academic freedom, but we shouldn’t use the threat of funding to force them to do it.