Stand Up, Speak Out: The Trinity ImperativeSeptember 23, 2018
Congratulations to Trinity Seniors who received their caps and gowns at the annual Cap & Gown Convocation on Saturday! This Gold Class of 2019 follows a continuum of Trinity seniors who have participated in the Cap & Gown ceremony in one form or another since 1903! 115 years of Trinity’s grandest tradition!
Below are the remarks I delivered at the end of the convocation:
Stand Up, Speak Out: The Trinity Imperative
By President Patricia McGuire
Recently I gave a television interview about one of the many hot topics of this historic era. In the course of the discussion I said something critical about a prominent public figure. [For my purpose at this convocation tonight, I’m not going to say who it was or what the topic was, since I don’t want your thoughts distracted by the politics of the issue, I’m making a different point in this speech.] After the klieg lights were turned off and the reporter and I were chatting about other issues, the camera person came over to me and said, “So aren’t you afraid to say all that?” I was shocked; the camera person almost never talks, but obviously, the people behind the lens have opinions, reactions and observations. So I replied, “No, why should I be afraid?”
“Well,” he said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit here, “maybe something bad could happen to you because of what you said.”
Wow. This is the United States of America, 2018 — not Germany 1942, or the Soviet Union 1960, or China or Syria or Burma or Saudi Arabia or Iran or North Korea. No, we are not like those places, but the fear that we could become them — lose hold of our rights to free thought and expression and assembly and press, slip down the long slide into abject, silent tyranny — this is a real fear, a real threat in this moment in America 2018.
I replied to him, “No, I’m not the least bit afraid. I was educated to speak the truth. You asked for my opinion on an important topic, and I gave you my honest response based on my understanding of the facts. No one should be afraid to speak forthrightly about the most critical issues we face today.”
Now, you know that I’m a Trinity Woman, and you know me well enough to know that I speak up quite often. For 120 years, Trinity has been educating women (and, more recently, men, too!) to be confident, to speak up, to take our rightful seats at the table of public discourse and advocacy. The Sisters of Notre Dame who founded Trinity are our first exemplars, courageous women who were unafraid even as they confronted the opposition of powerful men to the founding of Trinity. They persisted, and we are their beneficiaries.
We believe this kind of an education remains necessary for all students who come here, and especially for women, and this is why we sustain our women’s college at Trinity. But there are some who say that this form of education is outmoded, that women have achieved full equality, that there is no longer a need for schools and colleges that have a particular mission to educate women to be strong and confident voices, actors with a purpose, leaders of courage and fortitude on the grand stages of communities and our global society.
No longer a need because women have achieved full equality? Really? Just read each day’s headlines, and it’s clear that the revolution is far from over.
Trinity persists because we know differently. We look around and see a world in which silence is, too often, the norm; where women’s voices are, too often, muted; a world in which women continue to suffer the extreme horror of men clamping hands across their mouths to silence the screams of pain and rage against sexual assault and other forms of abuse.
We all have had the experience of being told to “hush-up.” From our earliest ages, girls see and hear social cues about the advantages and expectations of submission and silence. We are not raised with the hot fervor of freedom of speech, but rather, with the cool stare of knowing our place.
Is that true? Aren’t we more evolved than that in the Year 2018?
Well, let’s ask Serena Williams. The greatest tennis player of our time, perhaps all time, was chastised for her clothing at the French Open and penalized for her aggressive expression at the U.S. Open. Even fame, wealth and years of championships could not protect Serena from the devastating pushback women hear all the time: act like a lady, which generally means, sit down and hush up!
Let’s ask Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, who dared to organize survivors of sexual assault to come together, to speak out, to challenge institutions and systems that continue to silence women and repress justice for victims of abuse. #MeToo has become a powerful movement exposing terrible crimes of powerful men especially in the media and entertainment industries; and yet, the movement is often mocked and belittled by people who seem to agree with those who think that women should just hush up.
Let’s ask Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while they were in high school. Dr. Blasey, a research psychology professor at Palo Alto University, was reluctant to speak up, but felt she had a civic duty to do so. She has received death threats for speaking out about her experience, and has been subject to obscenely disparaging treatment including by members of Congress and even the president of the United States.
Let’s ask Trinity alumna Nancy Pelosi, Class of 1962, the Democratic Leader in Congress who was the first and still only woman elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. In last week’s Time Magazine cover story on her, Nancy was hailed as “…one of the most consequential political figures of her generation.” But the cover story went on to describe the endless attacks on Pelosi not only by political opposition but even by people in her own party:
“Pelosi isn’t humble. Many women, she thinks, are afraid to show pride and need to see an example of confidence. …Pelosi seems to feel no need to apologize for her status in the way women are expected to and men rarely are. Perhaps the assertion of ego by a woman is the most radical act there is: the refusal to submit or be subordinate.” (Time Magazine, September 6, 2018)
We are called to take the radical action of standing up and speaking out every single day, to name the truth, to state the facts, to give voice to those who have none. This is the assertion of ego, and it is essential to leadership. This is the obligation that comes with your caps and gowns, the vestments of your Trinity education.
Now, I’ve been talking about women, but the men are not off the hook! What’s important for women is equally important for men — let women be the exemplars in this discussion but men, too, have to stand up and speak out.
When that cameraman asked me if I was afraid to criticize a public figure, I don’t think it was a gendered question but rather a question about power and fear. Men are just as susceptible as women to intimidation and fear, the power politics that rules this town every day. Just look at the behaviors of members of Congress, so afraid to step outside the party lines. The late Senator John McCain was held up as a hero for many reasons, including his willingness to, on occasion, reject the party line and take a stance in opposition to the status quo. Few members of Congress, male or female, seem willing to do just that.
Let’s ask Colin Kaepernick, frozen out of his profession by spineless NFL owners, bullied and vilified by powerful people all because he had the courage to “take a knee” to protest police brutality and the grave injustices that black men face every day. The efforts of the president of the United States, some NFL owners and others to repress the speech and expression of professional football players is a direct affront to our national values and civil rights. The very flag that some people claim to be defending is a powerful symbol of the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, including freedom of speech and expression.
Look at the conspiracy of silence in the Catholic Church, an ancient patriarchy now increasingly devastated by reports of priests abusing children going back decades. For far too long, the response of the Church hierarchy, all male, was a deliberate and pernicious silence, a pall of deception in which perpetrators of horrific crimes were moved from parish to parish while the victims suffered in silence. Powerful men in the hierarchy, the bishops and cardinals and maybe even popes, they knew what was going on, but they enforced the code of silence, until it was broken wide open, first by the free press in Boston, then by the justice system.
Last Monday, we observed Constitution Day, a moment mandated by Congress to educate the public about the importance of the document that is the framework for our democracy. Members of the Trinity community participated in a straw poll that included questions about the First Amendment and the responses from students, faculty and staff expressed strong support for the importance of free speech and free press.
Of all the rights we have, Freedom of Speech is the most important right we have, because it is through speech that all of our other rights find their power and protection from tyranny. Without free speech, democracy fails.
So many issues confront our society in this historic era. Whether we agree or disagree about the circumstances and solutions for any particular issue, we must find common ground in the urgent need to address the problem of pervasive sex abuse across major social institutions from Hollywood to universities to the Catholic Church; we must come together as a free people to expose and reject interference in our elections by international provocateurs and dictators; we must insist that the wealthiest nation in human history can do better in sharing its talent and resources to improve the conditions of life for those who are marginalized; we must confront the lies that say that immigrants are threats to our nation, that undocumented persons are unworthy of our respect and assistance, that holding children hostage in cages is a legitimate tactic of a powerful government to enforce its laws. This is wrong! We need to say so every single day! We must demand that our leaders speak truthfully and reflect the commonly shared values of a good society, to treat all people with respect, to oppose racism and sexism and unjust treatment of people based on who they are or who they love or how they speak or where they were born.
All of these contemporary issues and more require our confident and robust exercise of freedom of speech every day, all the time. Two nights ago, I was honored to be at a meeting during which the great Ruth Simmons spoke. She was the first African American Woman to become the president of an Ivy League institution when she became president of Smith College, and then president of Brown University, and then she came out of retirement to rescue Prairie View University. She is feisty and forthright. She said that she used to be afraid to speak out for fear that some people would demand that she be fired for saying hard things; but she persisted. She also said the truest thing of all, that it is a bankrupt approach for a democratic society to dictate what people may or may not say. Freedom of speech is everything.
We who have the privilege of this Trinity education, we must always stand up and speak out without fear, with confidence and with the conviction that our engagement and advocacy really can make a difference for others. This is the imperative of our Trinity education. Tonight, you, our seniors, take on these caps and gowns as symbols of that confidence and conviction, a statement about your readiness to step up to the Trinity imperative to be advocates for justice for those who need your voice in so many places. In the years ahead, you will be called upon to stand up, to speak out without fear, to exercise the courage necessary to confront the powerful, to oppose injustice, to lead communities forward to a more peaceful, just and prosperous future. You will do so with the knowledge and talents you have developed here. And you will do all of this empowered through the strength, wisdom and infinite love of the Trinity that goes with you each day.
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Constitution Day Continues: Thoughts on the Supreme CourtSeptember 19, 2018
Constitution Day in 2018 has occurred at the height of one of the most contentious episodes in the history of nominations to the United States Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement late in the summer. Article II Section 2 of the United States Constitution says that the President has the power to appoint judges of the Supreme Court “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” Accordingly, President Donald Trump nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace him. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings, with Democrats accusing the Republican majority of failing to allow enough time for the process. Shortly before the committee was to vote on the nomination, a complainant came forward accusing Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault while in high school, a charge that Judge Kavanaugh denies. As of this writing, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman alleging sexual assault, will testify before the Judiciary Committee next Monday, as will Judge Kavanaugh.
Supreme Court appointments have always evoked partisan contentiousness because justices serve for a lifetime. While judges are supposed to be impartial, in fact, the nominees always have a distinctive political bent depending on the party in power. Once on the high court bench, only death or retirement can end their term. There are only nine justices, and their ideological spread is considerable. Justices can and do moderate their viewpoints over time, so sometimes a conservative justice participates in a progressive ruling, and sometimes liberals surprise their fans with a conservative opinion. But, on the whole, the viewpoints tend to become somewhat predictable since the opinions of justices are studied intensely.
The current Supreme Court has four generally predictable conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito and the newest Justice Neal Gorsuch. Four generally predictable liberal members include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice David Souter. Because of this balance, the replacement for Justice Kennedy, who was a conservative-to-moderate vote, and sometimes even a “swing” vote to a more liberal view, is seen as an important pivot to maintain balance on the Court.
I’ll post another blog in a few days commenting on the extraordinary circumstances of the current nomination. For now, that bit of background above sets-up this question posed to the Trinity community on the Constitution Day Straw Poll:
Question #4: Do you agree or disagree with lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justices?
CAS Students commented:
“I would suggest that lifetime appointments of any leaders-political or judicial-is a borderline
dictatorial attribute of our society. If citizens are in favor of monopolizing the individuals who uphold
the law, Then they would vote as such. I am in favor of evolution. Traditionally unchanging the
individuals that weigh in heavily on the nature of how Americans should treat one another or
behave with one another is quite scary. Mandating that these individuals are guaranteed a seat in
the Supreme Court will almost protect them when their adherence to law waivers.”
“I don’t agree with the lifetime appointment of judges because it’s a stressful job that occupies a lot
of time. Other than that and my personal biggest concern with lifetime judges is the fact that
society changes, and having judges that are older doesn’t help younger generations because
usually older people grew up with a certain life style and they won’t understand younger
generations problems, such as then idea of student loans. Supreme court judges that are on court
now may not understand how much college and its price has changed so they don’t think student
loans are as important as college students know they are.”
“I agree with the lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justices. If for any reason, the Justice is
behaving unprofessionally, they can be impeached. I do not suggest any changes.”
Professional Students commented:
“I agree with lifetime appointments.”
“No one should have a guaranteed lifetime job. This is very dangerous. People become complacent
knowing they can’t get fired no matter what they do. Mindsets can change over the years. People
become older and their minds are not as active. They need to go through a process every 4 years
just like the President.”
“I do not agree with the lifetime appointments of the Supreme Court. There are so many people
who have different views that others. Those that are appointed will/could still have the views of
when they first became part of the Supreme Court. I believe that a fresh pair of eyes every few
years will be beneficial, the same way we can get a new President every 4 years. This gives those
that have lived and seen what happens day-to-day, the opportunity to be heard.”
“I would consider the need for a lifetime appointment. Does it serve as an extreme checks and
balance system, are they there for the purpose of continuety, does it protect them from political
influence? I don’t think so. Perhaps a 12 year term equivalent to 3 presidential terms would be
ideal and effective.”
“I do not agree that Supreme Court justices should be given a lifetime appointment. I base this in the
reasoning that as we get older our cognitive functioning decreases greatly and our ability to make
thoughtful and reasonable decisions are hampered. Another reason to not have life-time
appointees is because societies change, beliefs change and public opinion changes. Someone
appointed to the Supreme Court in 2018 will surely not be in conjunction with the beliefs of the
American people 40 years later, in many situations. I believe a life-time is too long to be given a
position, and that 20 years should be the maximum amount allotted to any appointee. There should
also be an age limit of 75 years old before passing the torch to the next justice. One should not be
able to just sit on the Supreme Court seat because they’re waiting for the next appointee to come
up who aligns with their agenda.”
“No, I do not agree with the lifetime appointments of the Supreme Court justices. Why should be
people have to wait until a judge die before being appointed to work. I would suggest that a judge
should work depending on his/her age the maximum of 30 years before retiring.”
Faculty and Staff commented:
“A lifetime appointment is far to much! A term of 20 years is more than fair and it gives more than
enough time for consistency in terms of the interpretation of the law.”
“I tend to disagree with lifetime appointments because if a justice is in failing health, especially
mental or emotional health, and refuses to step down, the judicial process is tainted. Also, a
person who was once appointed as a justice based on his or her background, character, political
position, and other factors may subtly or suddenly change completely from the individual who was
appointed. There should be a way for the other justices or an independent counsel to address
these possibilities and initiate proceedings to remove such a justice in the interest of the citizens
and the country as a whole.”
“I agree with the lifetime appointment. However, the process by which appointment and the timing
has been too politicized.”
“We were always taught that life-time appointment ensures the independence of the Supreme
Court. I still believe in this. Justices tend to become more moderate the longer they are on the
court. If they had shorter terms, I feel like the appointment process would be even more politicized
and justices would be more conscious of political issues in their decisions.”
“In general, lifetime appointments have served us well. I don’t see this as a big deal. In the modern
era, justices seldom die in office; they tend to resign when they feel they have nothing more to
offer. Of course, as people live much longer now than they used to in the late 1700s, it might be
worth considering fixed terms for justices. Those terms would need to be long (at least 20 years),
however, to provide the court with the kind of independence from Presidential or Congressional
meddling that it now enjoys.”
“Lifetime appointments to a body that comprises a full third of our government should be taken
almost as seriously as constitutional amendments. A two-thirds majority in both houses should be
required to confirm a Supreme Court Justice.”
“Lifetime appointments are intended to provide the court with maximum protection from political
interference. I don’t LIKE lifetime appointments, but I’d give them up only if an equally strong
mechanism to protect the independence of the court could be found. I have no idea what to do
about the appointment process, which has degenerated into a circus sideshow.”
“Appointment process should not be dictated by politicians (e.g., Presidential selection, Senate
confirmation hearings). Appointment process should be done by a non-partisan, non-political
entity. For instance, justices should be appointed based on geographic region or demographics so
that they represent the American population overall. Lifetime appointments seem ok; would be
better if it were generational appointments (e.g., within median American age limits).”
“I agree with lifetime appointments but Obama should have been able to make an appointment –
hate the way the Congress has handled this issue…”
“I do agree that U.S. Supreme Court Justices should have lifetime appointments. This alleviates
political pressure (they don’t worry about how their rulings will affect their careers after they leave
the court). However, the process of appointment is too political. One political party should not be
able to completely prevent a nomination hearing (as was done with Garland), and nominees
should be able to be fairly and thoroughly questioned to determine their commitment to the law
and Constitution vs. their commitment to a particular political party/ideology.”
“I agree with Emily Bazelon, legal scholar and New York Times writer, who advocates for a single
27 year term for justices. Long-term appointments definitely help keep the role of justice from being
politicized. Without that we would not have had justices like O’Connor or Kennedy who riled their
own parties with some of their decisions. The courts should be free of politics. That said, courts
get stacked by lucky presidents. We need to make sure that the court stays balanced by assuring
it gets refreshed more often.”
“The idea, as I understand it, was to prevent other influences on justice if the rulings made could
not influenced by the idea that “right” equals longer tenure. I agree that appointments should be
Question #5: Other Thoughts on the Constitution: Should it Change?
Some responses to the final question:
A CAS student says: “No. The Constitution is set in stone.”
A Professional Student says: “The constitution should be changed to indicate that a sitting President can be charged, indicted and sent to prison. No one is above the law.”
Faculty and Staff commented:
“Yes. Up to 2016, I had been a vocal defender of the Electoral College as a safeguard against
really disastrous outcomes. In 2016 the Electoral College failed us; it failed to prevent the election
of precisely the kind of person it was designed to guard against–a charlatan who may well be a
traitor. The Electoral College should be abolished. We should look into other methods of direct
election of the President, perhaps through a runoff or ranking system, so that we don’t end up with
a proliferation of candidates and minor parties.”
“Our nation has been polarized by two political parties that are now virtually private industries unto
themselves. The Constitution should be amended to take the money out of politics and make
electioneering less profitable (and therefore corruptible).”
“Full and complete equality for women in all spheres of life. Guarantee the right to vote for all
citizens of legal age, including the incarcerated. Publicly-funded elections with a ban on private
money in politics.”
“Issues in our society regarding rights have the ability to be worked out through the political
process, within the legislative and judiciary arms of government. However, this requires that we
have people of integrity and ability filling those roles. This can happen if citizens are committed to
that ideal, invest the time and energy to educate themselves about issues and candidates, and
then make the time and effort to vote and participate in the national conversation.”
“Our founders were pretty wise, but I do believe that ultimately, a more just democratic system is
the parliamentary democracy. Presidential democracies place too much power into the hands of
one person. Presidents also get to make appointments of un-elected officials that we now learn
stage tiny coups in the Oval every day by removing letters from the President’s desk, intentionally
misleading and misguiding our duly elected president. They feel the NEED to do this because that
position has just become too powerful, and as a consequence, too dangerous. While a parliament
still has a leader, the power that leader has is less consolidated, and the rest of the duly elected
legislature has more say in the execution of governance, as opposed to our current conundrum
where un-elected appointees are making these moves. In addition, the Electoral College was a
solution for a bygone era and is certainly no longer needed. I see it as a wholely undemocratic
idea, and it should be abolished. Finally, weak campaign finance laws have allowed America to
replace monarchies and nobility with oligarchies. The Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers,
the Astors, the Waltons, the Mercers, the Kochs, the Musks. How are these insanely rich
oligarchs, wielding their wealth as weapons against democracy, in any way different from what we
were trying to escape in the Old World? There are a few very rich people that decided this past
presidential election, and that must never happen again.”
“Let’s have a closer look at the 25th amendment.”
And these comments:
“Thanks for waking my brain to our constitution in this way….”
“…this survey peaked my interest in the constitution to study it.”
That’s the whole point of Constitution Day! Thanks for your participation!
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Constitution Day Continued… Second Amendment Opinions!September 17, 2018
The Trinity community has strong opinions on the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States! Continuing our observance of Constitution Day, below are the answers to our straw poll concerning the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms. This question received more comments than any other!
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — Second Amendment
Right to Bear Arms
||Needs to Change
CAS students commented:
- “The right to bear arms needs to change because times have changed. When the right first came
around, that was back when people get the bullet and put gun powder in before firing. But
nowadays with semiautomatic rifles and AK47 with several rounds it’s very dangerous and things
need to change.”
- “I believe the 2nd amendment, while very important to people’s rights, needs to be changed. The 2nd
amendment was created in order for the people in the 13 colonies to protect themselves was
something to happen, for example the British attacked. This doesn’t mean I am saying to take
away the right to bear arms completely. I believe that people should have the right to bear arms
AFTER going through a thorough background check and psychiatric tests. It’s okay to give people
the right to own arms as long as we’re safe about it.”
- “The right to bear arms needs updating to today’s standards. Guns have definitely come a long way
since when the constitution was originally written, and we can not treat them the same way,
because a lot has changed since then. Too many tragedies have occurred that could have been
prevented if there were more strict rules and regulations put in place for the safety of our citizens.”
- “2nd amendment needs to changed and updated to the modern society we live in now, not the
Professional Students Commented:
- “Right to bear arms should be clarified. My understanding is that this legal right was conceived to
protect our country from invaders – not to be aggressive toward our neighbors.”
- “Ideally, we should rewrite the 2nd amendment more clearly to reflect the framers’ intent that the
right to bear arms be limited to members of a “well regulated militia.” Alternatively, the Supreme
Court could revisit to issue to provide such clarity.”
- “Our gun laws should be updated. Why are military style weapons sold to everyday citizens. Military
weapons are for war. Regular citizens can protect themselves without those type of weapons.
There needs to be a federal law for background checks and a waiting period of at least 30 day.
Each state having its own laws in my opinion make it easier for legal guns to fall into the wrong
- “The right to bear arms is being abused and has caused more harm than good especially as it relates to the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida.”
- “The right to bear arms should be protected at all costs, but also implement large-scale security
measures and background checks nationwide for those wishing to bear arms. Anyone with a
violent mental-illness should not be able to purchase a firearm, period. Those who have been
convicted of any crime should also not be able to purchase a firearm, I’m referring to simply any
crime, not just violent crime. If you’re irresponsible enough to get arrested for a crime, you aren’t
responsible enough for a firearm. One of the other things is that nobody on a federal watch list or
no fly list should be able to buy a gun, how that is even still possible I have no idea, but somehow
- “Second Amendment needs to emphasis that the right to bear arms should be used against sworn
enemies not fellow citizens.”
And Faculty and Staff had these comments:
- “The right to bear arms originally pertained to the militia, but it has been blown far out of proportion. While it may be appropriate for a citizen to own a gun, we must definitely address the gargantuan problem of random shootings across the country. We must also consider a ban on firearms designed to kill large numbers of people–citizens don’t need uzis, for example. The NRA can have its hunting rifles, but it must recognize the lethal nature of other types of firearms and not support them. These are but a very few of the ideas that can shape an overhaul of this amendment.”
- “I feel very strongly that the Second Amendment has to change. It is unacceptable and morally
wrong to continue to allow shootings, murder, weapons of destruction to be shielded by the
second amendment. Too many lives are being lost because lawmakers are being complicit with
the NRA in allowing greed and power to control their actions.”
- “Sen. Chris Hayes (D-CT) articulates well the goal of establishing restrictions on gun possessions
and ownership by citizens who are a danger to society. Purchasing guns should have stronger
restrictions, and the sale of certain guns (semi-automatics) should be outlawed. Guns should be
restricted from churches and places of worship as well as schools and hospitals, indeed, every
place where people gather.. Connecticut’s experience of the Sandy Hook School shooting in 2012
— with 20 first graders and 6 teachers/ administrators shot and killed by 20 y/o Adam Lanza–
teaches us that guns are far too easily acquired and tragically used. Numerous subsequent school
and public shootings in our country attest to the need for updated gun laws in our Constitution.
Limits to the NRA are needed. Let’s tackle this social ill sooner than later.”
- “Firearm ownership needs to be included in an easily-accessible database. There needs to be a
waiting period of at least one week before someone can purchase a firearm in order to check their
mental health and criminal history. No one under the age of 18 should be allowed to own a
- “Re: second amendment, when the Bill of Rights was drafted, the right to bear arms was brought
about in a different context than what Americans are faced with right now. The amendment should
become more limited in scope or even completely removed. Other first-world countries (e.g.,
Japan, Australia, Canada) have no such rights and their murder/suicide/death by guns are
- “We need to update the Right to Bear Arms…the founders were talking about muskets not
AK47s…not everyone should be allowed to carry…there have been too many mass shootings
because of how easy it is for anyone to get a gun…this country lost its soul after the slaughter of
those [children] at Sandy Hook Elementary and we failed to pass reasonable gun control laws…”
- “The Bill of Rights was created in response to historical state abuses, and all rights are important,
necessary, and relevant – except the 2nd amendment. No one needs an Uzi, an assault weapon, a
silencer, etc., for protection. The amendment should be adjusted to exclude weapons of mass
killing and should be more directive about the circumstances in which the right to bear arms is
acceptable – ie, there should be gun control, not a free for all.”
- “I believe the second amendment is important, but I think it is misinterpreted by most gun rights
advocates. It guarantees the right to a “well regulated militia,” which was more relevant and
important at the time it was written. It was a right intended for “the people,” not for each person as
an individual. We need better gun regulations (the amendment clearly says “well regulated”!).
More guns in the hands of more individuals will not make us safer.”
- “The Second Amendment made sense in 1789, when it was proposed, after all, we had just
founded a brand new nation in response to what we considered tyranny. But there was no way for
the founders of this country to know just what kind of weaponry would eventually be developed
and deployed, not just in war, but in our own streets. The Second Amendment needs to be
revisited and revised in SOME way.”
- “The Second Amendment should be removed altogether.”
Below are the aggregate responses to the other questions we asked about parts of the Bill of Rights:
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — 4th Amendment
Protection Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
||Needs to Change
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — 6th Amendment
Right to Speedy Trial by Jury
||Needs to Change
- Faculty/Staff comment: “Interestingly, the Sixth Amendment is mentioned above, but in order to address the concerns of the Sixth Amendment, the 13th Amendment [abolishing slavery] is also of paramount concern. The mass incarceration system in the US is, by design, a loophole by which blatant slavery still exists today. In a prison strike that spanned 17 states over the last two weeks, incarcerated people and prison staff used sit-ins and slowed work performance to protest the dehumanization, slave wages, and unyielding violence that plague the prison system. Every citizen should have the right to a fair trial and trial by a jury of peers, however, change must begin with the erasure of a system that supports hyper
criminalization of minorities, and vastly neglects the rights of minority citizens. Said change, begins with revision of the 13th Amendment.”
- Professional Student comment: “The Sixth Amendment has not been applied equally to all who encounter the judicial system and unfortunately if one lacks the resources to obtain a good attorney it’s nearly impossible to hair a fair and speedy trial.”
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — 8th Amendment
Protection from Cruel and Unusual Punishment
||Needs to Change
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — 14th Amendment
Right to Due Process
||Needs to Change
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — 14th Amendment
Right to Equal Protection of Laws
||Needs to Change
- Faculty/Staff comment: “As for the Fourteenth Amendment (and several others listed I might add) I am simply not seeing this as it relates to the many occurrences of doing “anything while black” and frankly I continue to be saddened by this every day since I too have experienced what having this current administration has done to many communities of color.”
NEXT: Answers to the questions about the Supreme Court and other changes to the Constitution. Thanks for your very interesting and robust replies!
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Voices of Trinity: Constitution Day 2018 – First Amendment DiscussionSeptember 16, 2018
We asked, you answered! The 2018 Constitution Day Straw Poll is fascinating and an up-to-the-minute reflection of what the Trinity community thinks about some critical issues about our country. I will provide the results in several blogs this week. This first blog is devoted to your answers on the First Amendment questions (Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Separation of Church and State).
Congress mandates that all educational institutions observe Constitution Day each year on September 17, the day the Founders met at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to sign the document that created the United States of America. It would take two years for the states to ratify the Constitution, becoming official in 1789. While 230 years sounds like a long time ago, today’s citizens know that debates about the Constitution and Bill of Rights rage even now, and the future of our country depends on well-educated people knowing what the Constitution says and having well-formed opinions about the rights, privileges, obligations and imperatives contained in this document. The Constitution is not a long document, and you can read it online through many sources. Legal cases interpreting the Constitution fill entire libraries, and that body of law has made our country strong, independent and an exemplar of the durability of the constitutional form of government.
Question #1 on the Bill of Rights: First Amendment Issues
On to the Poll! In the first question, we asked students, faculty and staff to rate certain rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights as “Very Important” or “Moderately Important” or “Not Important” or “Needs to Change.” The question had this introduction: “Individual Rights: The United States Constitution includes a Bill of Rights that protects many important rights of citizens. But some people think the rights go too far, or that it’s time to update the Bill of Rights for the modern age. What do you think? Indicate your opinion on these rights that are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (this is a selection, not all are listed)” — below the answers to the various parts of the question are set out separately with comments relevant to the specific rights listed. Note that “Professional Students” includes students in SPS, BGS, EDU and NHP:
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — Freedom of the Press
||Needs to Change
Interesting that professional students are somewhat more critical of Freedom of the Press while faculty/staff are the most supportive.
- A Professional Student commented: “I believe in the power of the press. Media is a VERY powerful tool in today’s society and its influence on our lives, daily decisions, and major decisions is becoming more pronounced as technology progresses. I believe that, in some cases, the media is being used to manipulate the public viewpoint for political or monetary gains. I am not saying the media should be regulated. But I believe that unethical reporting and the falsification or purposeful misleading of the public via the media should be considered a serious offense. I am not saying they lie. I am saying that some individuals may misrepresent facts and only give the part of the story that they want the people to see.”
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — Freedom of Speech
||Needs to Change
While the vast majority in all categories believe that Freedom of Speech is very important, there are some who urge limitations, such as this comment:
- A member of the Faculty/Staff commented: “Freedom of Speech, while quite important in a democracy, has expanded too far. It needs to be balanced with respect for our country with certain acts declared illegal, including flag burning (is this really speech?), inflammatory speech, hateful speech (e.g., racial epithets, other comments demeaning various groups), and the like.”
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — Separation of Church and State
||Needs to Change
Very interesting mixed results across all categories. People have conflicting thoughts about the Separation of Church and State, perhaps in part because the political environment often conflates them.
- A Professional Student commented: “The separation of church and state needs to be reviewed by the current Administration because there seems to be a gross misunderstanding the their part.”
#1: What do you think of the Bill of Rights — Freedom of Religion
||Needs to Change
While the results were mixed on Separation of Church and State, there’s more unanimity about the importance of Freedom of Religion, though professional students seem the most skeptical:
- A Professional Student commented: “Freedom of Religion- I am not overly religious. I was
raised Southern Baptist. However, I have come to see religion as more of a set of ethical
guidelines. I honestly do not care if a person is religious or not. I do not believe that any religion is
more right than the other. I do not believe that a person’s religious beliefs should be forced upon
any individual, especially if it harms an individual.”
You had a lot to say about the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms! That summary will be in the next blog. But continuing the First Amendment theme in this blog, let’s turn to the second question in the poll:
Question #2: “Fake News” and Press as “Enemy of the People”
Question #2 reads: “Media and the President: President Trump has called the press “fake news” and even the “enemy of the people.” He suggests that there should be changes in laws (for example, tougher libel laws) to restrain what the media publishes. Do you agree or disagree, and why? Is there a better solution? Explain in a one-paragraph essay.”
Students in the College of Arts and Sciences wrote:
- “I disagree! In a potentially corrupt society, some may find the freedom of the media to be their
sole-discreet at times-outlet to shine light on issues usually overlooked. I recall a scenario where a
young abused wife’s only outlet was to a local journalist. It was by default that the journalist
pursued the abused victim and asked permission to publish an article about her accused-never
legally pursued-husband. This avenue of communication shed even more light on the fact that
local officers-who were great buddies with the abusive husband-never activated the appropriate
legal procedures;after they were called to the home on several occasions. Media should not be
stunted as it has the potential to save lives.”
- “I do agree that there should be tougher libel laws, because a negative article of atrocious actions
that are not true can damage or endanger an individual’s life and character I believe in a free
press, but I believe that the press needs to be held accountable for certain stories. I do not like the
term, “fake news,” or “enemy of the People,” but I do understand it to an extent. I personally
believe that the media has the utmost responsibility to verify and substantiate their stories before
publishing them. Instead of trying to defame an individual’s character, the media should primarily
focus reporting the objective truth.”
- “I disagree. Media is not the “enemy of the people”. Although there is a possibility of giving
mistakenly some information, in no way the media should be labelled as “fake news”. “
- “Disagree. While people may not like what is published, it is still the press’ right to inform the public.
I do however believe that the US media in general has issues with biaism when compared to
- “I do not agree with Trump about having tougher libel laws, only because the media is a major
outlet to inform people of what is going on, though there should be something in place to assure
how accurate certain topics and information are and how they are being portrayed. Media outlets
should be stating facts, not assumptions.”
- “I believe that Trump has only taken this into consideration because it affected him personally. I
think that it is important to get different perspectives on topics and the media provides us with a
variety of positions. Yes, there are flaws in the way news has been projected; such as, statistics.
The change should be that there are accurate sources and evidence that supports the claims.”
- “The media should be free to publish what it wants under constitutional law but we should also
know who is funding the press.”
- “I disagree entirely with this belief. The press was made as a 4th branch of government in order to
keep our citizens informed of the government. Many presidents have had feuds with the press
because in today’s societies the press doesn’t just inform us of what is happening, they inform and
analyze giving their own opinion on current events. Trump doesn’t want the media to go away, he
wants those who oppose him and question him and his ideas to be erased so that nobody
criticizes his ideologies, something that only dictators do.”
Students in the Professional Schools wrote:
- “I completely disagree. If we have in the Bill of Rights, Freedom of Press and Freedom of Speech,
what gives him the right to take that away from us. Donald Trump only wants what is best for him.
If the press does not portray him as a “Saint”, then they get called out for being “fake news and
enemy of people.” Although I sometimes do not agree with what the media portrays certain things,
there still should not be censorship placed on everything because it makes someone look bad.
This is not Big Brother 1984, instead, do not feed into what the media has to say about the
negativity and focus on the positives.”
- “I do not think the media should have laws dictating what they can and cannot publish. I do think
that there should be repercussions for purposely misrepresenting facts in order to drive the public
to support a particular cause or end game. Something like a peer review journal. Scientific claims
must be backed with facts and able to be accurately replicated. I think the media should have a
similar standard. They should not be allowed to “blow up” and misrepresent statements without
consequences. They are trusted. They should not be able to abuse that trust.”
- “The news organizations are not the enemy of the people but they do exhibit clear bias towards
each of their base, which comes off as fake news and deceiving stories meant to churn up public
opinion,skew opinions, and draw viewers into their political agenda. This extends to outlets such
as CNN and Fox News alike. They are all guilty. I believe that the news should be handled
separate from bias and political agenda but that would take generations to solve given the way
Americans already hold their beliefs towards their news sources in this country. Its unfortunately
some of the downsides we have to endure while allowing freedom of speech (which is a good
thing). Many times we use our freedom of speech irresponsibly and with political agenda
regardless of the facts. I would challenge someone with bigger ideas than I, to create laws that
hold these organizations accountable for biased reporting, without taking away from their first
- “I disagree that we should strengthen libel laws. The press is free to report and the president is free
to provide a logical rebuttal. He has failed to do so repeatedly.”
- “I disagree because his approach is that of a dictator and Trump is the leading the circus for “fake
news”. Journalists are not the enemy because they fact check this administration as they have
- “I disagree. He wants to do this to obstruct justice and hide his crimes.”
- “I agree on that there should be changes about the press speaking on information that is not true.
This has been going on for decades and of course in my opinion if this continues to happen, the
press or whomever is putting out this “fake news” should be fined a enormous amount.”
- “I agree to a certain extent,however, the media should not be silenced.”
Faculty and Staff Comments:
- “I disagree. Freedom of the speech and the press is vital, and essential to our democracy. The
literal definition – governance OF the people. If the government places itself in the position to
control the message, the power of the people and their voice is lost, and democracy would
- “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Our founders
were wise to include this sentence in the Bill of Rights, and to word it so carefully. The press and
free speech are as important to protecting our freedom and liberty from tyranny — if not even
more so — than the Second Amendment. The pen is, after all, mightier than the sword. It’s best to
keep that sword in the hands of the people, and not have it taken from them by the government.”
- “Press need freedom to investigate and report. Ethical standards need to be imposed by the
respective media companies.”
- “I strongly disagree. The president invented the term “fake news” to help cover up the truth of many
things he is saying and doing, which can be fact-checked and proved to be lies. I believe he calls
the press “the enemy of the people” because he is afraid of what may be printed about him. The
people he serves deserve to know the truth, and he should address everyone with respect, without
slurs or insults. In addition, he does not take responsibility for his actions that come under
criticism; he constantly finds someone else to blame for whatever has happened. He doesn’t own
up or “man up” to his mistakes. Until that happens, libel laws should stay as they are. Meanwhile,
heavy doses of fact-checking need to continue and to be given more prominence in news reports.”
- “The president is wrong. The press must remain unfettered so citizens can gain access to the
workings of government. This leads to an informed citizenry capable of making the right decisions
and voting with the most available information. The press should not be silenced.”
- “Yes. the media confuses its citizenry and fails to provide a full picture of the news story.”
- “Disagree. A free press is one of the main checks on runaway government power. The press’s role
is, by nature, adversarial, and that’s probably why President Trump is so angry about media
coverage. He has shown that he cannot stand to have his lies and failings pointed out. He has a
compelling need to hit back at anyone who disagrees with him. The campaign against the press is
just another example of the way he sees the world.”
- “An independent press is the eyes and ears of the public, regularly digging into matters that affect
society but that some would prefer be kept from public view. With all its faults (notably corporate
ownership and control) this is what journalism and only journalism exists to do. An independent
press is indispensable to democracy.”
- “The media needs to report news to the best of their ability with the information they can obtain.
News shows which may editorialize on the news in any way they want. The public needs to know
the difference between fact and opinion. We need to have better media literacy in this country so
we understand where the information is coming from and it’s validity . The president does not and
should not in any way get to dictate or censure the media from fair reporting.”
- “Strongly disagree with this crazy, unfit president who celebrates ignorance and constantly shows
the world how little he knows of our history or the Constitution. He may be able to manipulate the
Fox news or the Sinclair Broadcast group and put a liar in front of the White House press corps
every day but fortunately the fourth estate will be his undoing! A free press is exposing his
laundering of Russian money, his failure to pay taxes and yes his collusion with the Russians, his
adultery and his mental deficiencies…can’t wait for it all to come out. Mueller for President in
- “I don’t just disagree with President Trump’s assessment that the mainstream media is fake and “an
enemy” – I believe he is lying, manipulatively. He is an autocratic demagogue who borrows the
language of authoritarianism to cover his own bad deeds. HE is the producer of fake news, HE is
the “enemy of the people”. The mainstream media may well turn out to be the institution that saves
our democracy. Just too bad they started real reporting late in the game!”
- “Trump will cry “fake” and “enemy” at any information or person that does not favorably support
himself or his view. Libel laws are necessary and important, but in the case of the current
president, I think the real issue is what can be done to counter the incessant lies that issue from
his mouth and from his administration. How can he be held accountable?”
What a great conversation! Thanks to all who participated!
Next: What Trinity students, faculty and staff think about the Second Amendment and other parts of the Bill of Rights….
Do you have an opinion on these issues? Use the “Comment” link below to tell us what you think!
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Engaging the Church in CrisisSeptember 12, 2018
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, has written to priests to tell them that he will soon be on his way to Rome to ask Pope Francis to accept the resignation he submitted in 2015 when he turned 75. Pope Francis should accept the resignation without delay. I say this with sadness; Cardinal Wuerl has been a good leader for this Archdiocese, and he has always been generous toward Trinity and me. But in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on the devastating cases of child sex abuse by priests in Pittsburgh, some of which occurred during his years as the bishop there, and the revelations in the report of Bishop Wuerl’s role in failing to deal with the abusive priests effectively, Cardinal Wuerl’s credibility has been severely damaged. Compounded by the scandal of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abusive misconduct, leadership change becomes imperative and inevitable, not so much as an admission of culpability but more as a statement of accountability and atonement by the Church leadership for the horrors that ordained clergy perpetrated upon vulnerable children and young adults for so many years.
I have no illusions that this impending leadership change in the Washington Archdiocese will settle the massive crisis that the sex abuse scandal has created for the Roman Catholic Church. Not at all. Pope Francis must do far more than swap out diocesan leaders if he wants to guide the Church forward to a new era of trust, confidence in leadership and effectiveness in promoting the moral and spiritual goals of the Catholic faith in human society. And while the Pope’s impending meetings with leading bishops from the U.S. and worldwide are necessary, such meetings are hardly sufficient to assuage the demands among lay and clerical members of the Church for more sincere expressions of atonement for the crimes of priests, along with a genuine commitment to significant change in Church governance structures.
The tendency of Church leaders to speak only to themselves is part of the problem right now. That problem has a name: clericalism. The problem of clericalism is a cultural disposition to reinforce both the spiritual authority and temporal power of ordained men, conferring on them certain privileges including an expectation that they are beyond reproach by mere lay persons. Clericalism creates a climate for the abuse of power, which has contributed to the criminal acts of abuse and the errors of judgment that protected so many abusive priests. With so much discussion of the problem of clericalism swirling around the sex abuse scandal, including a condemnation of clericalism by Pope Francis, himself, it’s been ironic that in the weeks since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Cardinal Wuerl has written at least four times to priests but has not addressed the laity more generally nor the many lay leaders of the ministries in the Archdiocese of Washington. While it is true that Cardinal Wuerl has asked the parishes to participate in a six-week “Season of Healing,” there is a general sentiment that this is not specific enough, and that lay people want an opportunity for more direct discussion about the future of Church governance.
Pope Francis did write to all of the People of God with a tone of anguish about the crisis, but with few specifics beyond calling on everyone to engage in penitential acts of prayer and fasting, which did not sit well with some critics who felt the Pope missed the point and was even trying to deflect real accountability. We are all struggling to make sense of what is happening, but at a time when we need real guidance and support to help the people we are working with to understand the situation, we are on the outside of the stained glass curtain trying to see what’s going on inside among the many cracks in the facade. We only know what we are reading in the newspapers, and that is quite devastating.
Clericalism is also fueling the internecine warfare within the hierarchy that has been going on for years, now erupting in a messy display of vituperative accusation unleashed in a letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador (papal nuncio) to the U.S. Nobody should confuse Vigano’s message with any genuine desire to atone for the crimes of priestly sex abuse of children. The “testimony” gives voice to the fight-to-the-death struggle for control between the rightwing and progressive wings of the Catholic hierarchy, with the rightwing supported generously by equally extreme and wealthy Catholic lay donors whose media outlets and think tanks have been working overtime to undermine Pope Francis and his progressive leadership. The Vigano message is also deeply homophobic and simply wrong in so many of its statements. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life has an excellent analysis of the Vigano matter in his essay, “The Politicization of the Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis.”
Rejecting the Vigano thesis does not mean we should step back from holding the Pope and bishops accountable for the sex abuse crisis. We must be firm in rejecting the rightwing interpretation of the problem as rooted in more liberal philosophies even as we must be equally firm in insisting that those responsible for crimes of child abuse must be removed from the Church, and those responsible for protecting the perpetrators must step down from leadership positions.
But beyond all of that, what’s the solution to this ugly mess? While there are many good commentaries on the crisis and potential long-term solutions, I think the immediate actions should include:
- Lay persons must be part of the solution at every step, and lay persons must be included in ALL discussions going forward about how to create effective solutions. No more letters should issue to priests only; lay people must be included as equal partners and obvious stakeholders for the future of the Church. And the hierarchy should not just tell lay people to pray and fast, or show up on Sunday to hear a letter from the bishop read from the pulpit or a homily on the issues. The problems need discussion at the tables of serious convenings and dialogues around the country.
- When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meet for their regular annual meeting in November, they should make the meeting open to lay persons, perhaps through a selection process of course, but the bishops should not meet in isolation from lay voices and insights.
- WOMEN! Women, in particular, must be invited, included and heard. Religious women, married women, mothers, single women, women who are deeply engaged with the actual work of the Church on the ground, with the people who need the ministries of the Church so very much. Women have long done the work of the Church, but too often have been relegated to the sidelines of any serious leadership conversations. Enough with that! Abandoning the clerical culture means that women will be welcome and heard in all of the important discussions about the future of the Church.
Should priests be able to marry? Should women be eligible for ordination? Should the practice of the secret conclave to elect the pope be more open? Should laity have a say in who gets appointed as a bishop? Should popes have term limits? So many questions swirl about the future of the Church. I will address some of these in future blogs. For now, however, we must find a way forward, together, believing that the faith is ultimately far stronger than the sins of men, and that a new Church with a more open, more hopeful future can emerge from this era of so much pain and anguish.
In all of this, we must keep as our central concern the children and victims of clergy sex abuse, and the parents and loved ones who have also suffered with them. No crime can be worse than harming a child for self-gratification, and to read the Pennsylvania grand jury report is to take an excursion through the darkest, most tortured places in hell. These crimes make a mockery of everything the Church teaches about the dignity of human life. To restore credibility, the Church leadership must offer profound atonement, demonstrate real understanding of the extent of the damage this crisis has wrought, and be open to new forms of organization to sustain the faith for the future.Continue reading →Read comments (4) Add Comment