Robert George is one of America’s foremost conservative intellectuals. He holds the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and is the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. George makes some very interesting observations about the liberal response to Catholic University’s decision to phase out its co-ed dorms. He wonders if the “authoritarian impulse in some liberal circles” actually “threatens to undermine the historic commitment of liberalism to individual and institutional freedom and rights of conscience.”
But as liberals around the country—not all, but many, and indeed increasingly many, it seems—abandon support for conscience protection and seek to force pro-life and pro-marriage citizens and institutions to comply with liberal ideological beliefs by, for example, referring for or even participating in abortions and providing facilities or services for celebrations of same-sex sexual partnerships, it seems clear that the Rawlsian ambition has been thrown over in favor of a crusade to establish what might be called (following Rawls himself) “comprehensive liberalism” as the official pseudo-religion of the state. The impulse to crush the rights of conscience (where conscience is considered in its classical sense of what Newman called a “stern monitor,” and not in the degraded sense of a faculty for writing moral permission slips) to ensure conformity with what have become key tenets of the liberal faith (abortion, “sexual freedom,” “same-sex marriage”) is the authoritarian impulse I mentioned. (I want to emphasize the words “have become.” Such ideas were no part of the liberalism embraced by such great figures in the tradition as Cesar Chavez, Hubert Humphrey, or Sargent Shriver, just to name some leading liberals from the quite recent past.)
Am I exaggerating the worry? Is the word “authoritarian” or the phrase “crush the rights of conscience” out of line in this context? Well, perhaps we have a test case emerging. A George Washington University law professor who is well-known for bringing law suits to advance liberal causes has given notice to the Catholic University of America that he will be suing the university under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. And what is alleged to be Catholic University’s mortal sin against human rights? Are you ready? It is the decision of CUA president John Garvey (himself an eminent legal scholar in the field of religious liberty and human rights, as MoJers know) to shift the university from co-ed dormitories to single-sex dorms. President Garvey’s objective (of which this particular change of policy is only a small piece) is to promote moral integrity as the Catholic Church understands that virtue and to combat the culture of promiscuity and alcohol abuse on campus. And what could possibly be wrong with that? Well, for “comprehensive liberals,” it seems, having separate dorms for young men and young women is “discrimination” based on “sexual stereotypes.” It simply can’t be tolerated. Institutions that would separate the sexes in living quarters are practicing the equivalent of racism by imposing on their students the equivalent of the Jim Crow system in the segregated South. Oy vey.
So we’ll see where liberals in general line up on this. It will, I predict, be instructive. Some, I hope and trust, will sniff the odor of authoritarianism and perhaps even speak out publicly against this effort to whip a private religious institution into line with liberal ideological tenets. But how many? Where will Catholic liberals (especially Catholic liberal academics) come down? Will they speak out?
What do you think? Is George on to something here? Read the entire post here.