By Julian De Ocampo ’13
“You should know that since you are a student in a private school, you have very few, if any, constitutional rights,” Principal Mr. Bob Ryan told me in an email requesting an interview concerning the right of the student body to freedom of speech.
Mr. Ryan was not saying that as a threat, but was rather describing how case law and diocese policy impact a private school. Landmark cases have determined students’ constitutional rights don’t stop at the school house gates – for public schools. Other court cases have found that private school students simply have to make do with limited rights.
Fair enough. Brophy is a private institution, and if attending this school means giving most of my constitutional rights to the letter of the law, then that isn’t too unreasonable.
But I would at least like to know why these regulations are in place. Specifically, I wanted to know what restrictions the school and the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has placed on the student body’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
After sitting down with Mr. Ryan to hash out the issue, I must profess that I firmly believe the Diocese of Phoenix, in some respects, unfairly silences the voices of those under its jurisdiction.
Mr. Ryan was very reasonable and forthcoming with me. He laid it out like this: the Diocese of Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted oversees all Catholic schools, and Brophy is a Catholic school.
So if Brophy wants to retain its Catholic school identity and therefore its Jesuit backing, it cannot support or condone behavior that would contradict the Diocese’s, and really the Church’s, beliefs and policies.
So what does this behavior entail?
There is no particular set of guidelines; rather, “Catholic” behavior includes anything in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
Mr. Ryan brought up a number of examples of prohibited behavior at Brophy.
For example, a Gay-Straight Alliance would be allowed at Brophy depending on the objectives, so long as it followed the guidelines for the Catholic Church and did not go against Church teachings.
Although Mr. Ryan put his full support behind protecting the human dignity of LGBT students, he did recognize that many of the tenets of the gay rights movement could not be condoned within a hypothetical club.
“The question is, ‘Should people who are gay be allowed to marry or consummate their relationship?’ The church is saying that that is not an option,” Mr. Ryan said.
This leads to a situation where even if a Gay-Straight Alliance were to come to fruition, it would have to oppose, or at least avoid, topics such as gay marriage or the refusal to commit to lifelong chastity, two important elements in the struggle for gay rights.
So human dignity is acceptable, but the actual issues that the gay rights movement takes a stance on are a no-no. What about politics? I can think of a few issues that the Church takes a stance on.
I brought up the example of the strong presence of the Right to Life movement – a movement that opposes legalized abortion – at Brophy.
The movement has spawned a student-run club that has been allowed to set up tables in the plaza area. The club also sponsors protests trips to Washington, D.C. each year that the school helps fund and support.
But where is the pro-choice movement?
It’s most likely been driven underground because, as Mr. Ryan put it: “No. That is no option if we’re a Catholic school … That’s something the Church has been very clear about. Abortion is an evil act.”
When it comes to classroom discussion, Mr. Ryan said, “absolutely” to “intelligent, critical, thoughtful conversations about the complexity of abortion.”
But he threw in a caveat by saying that the discussion should center exclusively on “the different avenues that people can sail down to get to a place so that there are no more abortions.”
The problem is this assumes that the mere consent of the creation of a student-run club equates to Brophy’s backing of the club’s beliefs.
We have Young Democrat and Teenage Republican student organizations, but that does not mean that Brophy supports either Democrats or Republicans.
Similarly, the admission of a club in opposition to the Right to Life Club should not equate to Brophy supporting the club’s mission.
The Diocese specifies that Brophy is not to invite any people who contradict the Catholic faith to speak on campus.
And yet the Young Democrats support the Democratic platform and its candidates, who often speak out in support of the pro-choice movement.
Conversely, the Teenage Republicans support a party that endorses capital punishment, another issue the Church staunchly opposes.
Either way, it’s a double-bind, and if merely allowing a student organization to exist on campus means the school by default condones everything that group does, then both of these clubs would have to be shut down immediately.
But I have a better solution: Let’s allow freedom of speech.
Sure, I’ll say that there should be restrictions, but when it comes to divisive issues, silencing any segments of the student body in the name of the Church starkly contradicts the Jesuit ideal of being open to growth.
Brophy must stand up for the voices of its students, even if it risks gaining the ire of the Diocese.
We may have an obligation to the Diocese, but we also have an obligation to allow students to speak their minds.
The school teaches us, the student body, every day about being open to growth and new ideas – now it’s time for the school to walk the walk and allow students who have the audacity to think differently to have a voice.