Thursday, October 31, 2013

We Chose Gonzaga for lots of reasons. This is one of them. I am so proud when the Westboro Baptists protest. All they recieve from this community is love.

 
TO:
The Gonzaga University Community
 
FROM:
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil., President
 
SUBJ:
A Message Regarding the Westboro Baptist Church – Invitation to Action
DATE:
October 31, 2013
 
 
Dear Gonzaga Students, Faculty, Staff and Administrators,
 
Yesterday we learned that the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) intends to "protest" the Memorial Service of Thomas S. Foley (which is to be held at St. Aloysius Church tomorrow, Friday, November 1st - the Solemnity of All Saints).  Many of you were here when the WBC last picketed near our campus, three years ago (October 2010).  Just as in 2010, as soon as we became aware of their plans, we also began to see interest on the part of community members in launching appropriate counter-protests.
 
Now, as I was then, I am grateful that a protest intended by its organizers to foster hate and deepen prejudice has elicited concern, attention, and thoughtful activism on our part; these are signs of Gonzaga at its best.

I do however want to call attention to several issues we need to consider in view of WBC’s plan to “protest.”

1)  The core of the WBC's activism is a message of hate and fear, often targeting those who may be suffering in some manner already.  The adherents of the WBC have chosen to focus their hatred in particular on college students (whom they perceive to engage in activities that are an affront to God), and military personnel (whose deaths they attribute to God's retribution for human sinfulness), and those who are gay.  The WBC often chooses funerals as opportunities to stage protests, and the WBC's message gains its power in part because it is delivered in a manner intended to shock, threaten, or offend, eliciting strong reaction thereby.

2)  A university exists to sponsor and facilitate the search for truth in the context of intellectual (academic) endeavor.  The announced WBC picket provides us with an opportunity to respond in a thoughtful and uniquely academic manner regarding numerous dimensions that relate to such an event: hate and its expression; movement politics; Constitutional rights; and social responsibility, to name a few.

Gonzaga, as a Jesuit, Catholic and humanistic university, has a special responsibility to respond actively to incidents of hatred and fear and to counteract decisively.  Those of us in Jesuit institutions are called by the Church to serve as beacons of light and hope for all people, but particularly those who are frequently marginalized and victimized by society.  We thereby follow in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, an active and engaged participant and leader in the promotion of justice over four centuries ago.
 
3)  Our understanding is that the WBC protest -- should it occur -- will take place in the general vicinity of St. Aloysius Church, but most likely on a busy public street with high visibility.  The WBC is not welcome on the Gonzaga University campus, and we will not permit them to picket or demonstrate on the private property which the university owns.  Through our evaluation of the WBC and its activities in other cities and campuses, we have determined the group is usually very small in number, well aware of its constitutional rights, and represented by experienced legal counsel.  It often carefully communicates its plans to the police and media in advance in order to generate reaction, but also to clearly establish its legal right to publicly demonstrate on public property -- and works hard to elicit maximum public exposure for its activities.  If WBC pickets are successful in evoking a physical confrontation with opponents, as has occurred, they will sue in the hope of obtaining monetary damages and raising their profile.  Thus, we can anticipate police presence to protect the peace at WBC demonstrations.

Gonzaga community members are advised that any violation of the law is likely to result in civil lawsuits as well as criminal charges.  In any event, members of our community are urged to thoughtfully consider the power they surrender by playing into the carefully crafted agenda of this group, that gains influence primarily through the attention given to it.  We invite individuals, external to the University but interested in taking a contra-position to the WBC, to consider all this in selecting appropriate responses.

Call to Action
I call upon the entire Gonzaga community -- students, faculty, staff, and administrators -- to join me in responding to the voices of fear and hatred by actively taking part in one of the justice-oriented events currently being planned tomorrow and in coming weeks. 
 
This Friday, November 1st, I invite all members of the GU community to wear Gonzaga apparel; and for those who are not in class, (or attending the Memorial Service for Mr. Foley), and wish to join together in solidarity -- to gather for a Vigil for Acceptance and Peace on the steps of Foley Center at 11:30 a.m.  Michelle Wheatley, Director of University Ministry, together with representatives of GSBA and the Gonzaga Community, will lead those who gather in prayer and reflection.
 
Those who intend to directly counter-protest the WBC are asked to do so in a non-violent, and legal manner, cooperating with the direction of law enforcement and campus security.
 
Please mark your calendar for the annual Gonzaga observation of the International Day of Tolerance, scheduled for Friday, November 15th at noon, again in front of Crosby Center. 
 
Thank you, and have a blessed (and safe) All Hallows’ Eve as wel

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