The religious liberty of American citizens — and American religious institutions — has been hard won. Our “first liberty” was born out of the courage (and blood) of our Founders, sustained through the courage (and blood) of our soldiers in wars at home and abroad, and is still defended today — at the greatest possible cost.
Operating within this free society, faithful Americans built universities — Catholic and Protestant — dedicated not only to educating their students in the fundamentals of history, science, and mathematics but also to enriching our nation through spiritually redeemed minds and hearts.
In the last few weeks, we have seen two of our greatest religious educational institutions — Notre Dame and Georgetown University — exercise their dearly bought freedoms to (in the case of Notre Dame) honor a man who opposes and works against core teachings of the Church and (in the case of Georgetown) conceal references to Christ so that the president will appear at the school. Of course, we all respect the office of the presidency — and there are many things to admire about the man who occupies the office — but none of that respect or admiration is should justify or empower turning aside from core principles.
In short, the sacrifices of the past and present were not made so that our most respected religious universities could render themselves indistinguishable from the secular institutions that (currently) dominate our academic landscape.
Today, the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, working with Georgetown students, sent a letter to President DeGioia expressing profound regret at the school’s actions. The key paragraphs follow:
Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity makes it unique. As its mission statement notes, Georgetown was “founded on the principle that serious and sustained discourse among people of different faiths, cultures, and beliefs promotes . . . understanding.” And it “provides excellent . . . education in the Jesuit tradition for the glory of God.” Indeed, its founder, John Carroll, the Jesuit priest who became America’s first Catholic bishop, envisioned “a national University rooted in the Catholic faith and Jesuit tradition, committed to spiritual inquiry, engaged in the public sphere, and invigorated by religious and cultural pluralism.”
With this special identity comes special responsibility. As you noted in your inaugural address, Jesuit Father Erich Przywara once observed that Jesuit universities must “interpret the Church to the world and the world to the Church.” In saying this, he echoed Christ’s commis sion for us to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” But last week, rather than “embody[ing] this responsibility”—even through the silent witness of a solitary monogram—you chose to hide the Church from the world and to “put [your candle] under a bushel.”
Spiritually, this decision is dubious, bringing to mind Christ’s warning to those “that shall deny Me before men.” Inexplicably, at the precise moment when the world was watching, Georgetown — a university founded by members of the Society of Jesus — refused to display even a monogram of His name. But by concealing its religious identity at the behest of the government, Georgetown also went against the best of the Catholic tradition. For example, St. Thomas More paid a dear price for refusing to conform his religious convictions to the dictates of the king. But his courage echoes through history, as he declared that “he died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Sadly, when facing consequences far less severe, you opted to invert his allegiances. (footnotes omitted)