Notre Dame refuses to recognize pro-marriage student group
NOTRE DAME, IN, May 15, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Notre Dame's administration and student leadership is under fire after denying official recognition to a student organization dedicated to promoting the traditional view of marriage, although it has an officially sanctioned group for homosexuals.
Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), which aims to promote the benefits of traditional marriage for children, was created in January 2014. In a petition to the Notre Dame leadership, it "call[ed] on the University administration to make a clear stand in support of the true definition of marriage and to take serious and sustained action to improve the public understanding of this natural institution."
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said SCOP's application to become an official student club was turned down by "the Club Coordination Council (CCC), a student group" which "recommended against approving SCOP because its purpose closely mirrors that of other recognized student clubs on campus."
Brown says the decision "is not unusual," noting that "31 percent of club applications have been denied over the past five years, most for the same reason – duplication of purpose."
But critics say the Catholic university discriminated against the group, which aims to promote the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage.
In a statement to LifeSiteNews, Notre Dame alumna Arina Grossu, who heads the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, said she "urge[s] Fr. Jenkins to overrule [the CCC's] decision and make a clear stand on Catholic teaching."
"Notre Dame, as the premier Catholic university in the country, has a responsibility to proclaim the beauty and truth of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family," Grossu said. "Further, all children have a right to be raised by their mother and father. Notre Dame must stand up and be a beacon of light and truth in this darkened cultural environment where natural marriage, family and children are threatened."
Michael Bradley, who helped organize a pro-marriage conference in March that was followed in April by a SCOP conference on "The Definition and Importance of Civil Marriage" in April, "No club exists that does what we do." SycamoreTrust.org, an alumni group protecting the university's Catholic identity, SCOP's focus is unique. "SCOP's focus on how pornography and marriage policies affect children and children's rights" makes it worthy of club status, it says.
A cursory look through Notre Dame's official list of clubs and student organizations turned up only one group that focuses on marriage in a similar fashion to SCOP, called "Rodzinka: Little Family." No student groups were found to focus on the harms of pornography, and most groups that focused on helping children did so in a social justice sense.
Hundreds of students signed a petition opposing SCOP's mission, especially its focus on children. The petition says, "we take issue with 1) SCOP’s incorrect assertion that same-sex parenting is damaging to children – this blatantly ignores all empirical data in this field of the social sciences that actually indicates the opposite is true. 2) In ignoring this data, SCOP’s policy discriminates against all non-traditional family structures in a way that is in direct opposition of the university policy on diversity inclusion and message of love and acceptance."
The petition also says that "Notre Dame is committed to the pursuit of truth, and SCOP is obscuring the truth in a way that ignores empirical reality and inhibits justice."
Bradley says that "without presuming to delve into the minds of the voting CCC members or impugn their motives," he does believe the anti-SCOP petition played a role in the rejection. "The anti-SCOP petition was littered with misrepresentations of SCOP's own mission and goals, and badly maligned SCOP's purpose. The voting members of the CCC almost surely were aware of this effort."
Bradley told LifeSiteNews that he thinks the Students Activities Office and CCC "both misunderstand SCOP's mission and purpose, and rejected our group on those mistaken grounds." Bradley said that he has "spent four years here occupying the circles comprised of members of any group on campus whose mission would most closely align with SCOP's," and based upon this experience believes no group is close enough to SCOP's mission to be considered redundant.
Contrary to Brown's separation between the administration and the student-led CCC, Bradley says that "the rejection letter was signed by a full-time adult employee of the Student Activities Office, and as such, the Student Activities Office is responsible for whatever decision comes our way. If the Club Coordination Council voted to deny SCOP recognition on the basis of a mistaken understanding of our mission and purpose, SAO is responsible for accepting the "redundancy" rationale, which is not sound."
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According to Brown, "SCOP leaders have been encouraged to meet with their peers in CCC to discuss how and why their purpose duplicates that of other clubs and to determine how they might reapply next year."
Critics of the CCC decision have pointed to the acceptance of what Brown calls "the establishment of a student organization for LGBTQ students and their allies." This took place in 2012.
According to Brown, however, the two situations are not exactly the same; he told LifeSiteNews that "student organizations are more permanent in structure and, therefore, have an administrative staff member who has been appointed to advise the group as a part of his/her job responsibilities, based on his/her expertise in a particular area."
He said that "student clubs apply...and operate based on student interest," and "have the ability to select or change their advisors, whereas organizations' advisors are always appointed by the university."
Brown pointed to a "pastoral plan" created and approved by the university for the LGBTQ group, which included a call for "all Notre Dame students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to the disciplined development of the theological virtue of charity, the cardinal virtue of justice, and the moral virtue of chastity in lives of self‐giving love."
“Due consideration is to be exercised so as to avoid any political or social activities that might compromise Notre Dame’s Roman Catholic allegiance and commitments," the plan said.
Notre Dame is no stranger to events and groups that disagree with Church teachings on sexuality. The play The Vagina Monologues was held on campus from 2002-6, and again in 2008.
Likewise, the Notre Dame Queer Festival was launched in 2004. By 2009, the festival was gone.
The event "StaND Against Hate Week" has long been on campus, and according to a participant in 2013 a prayer service in the campus Grotto was "a Catholic prayer service," aimed at "a universal theme, open to people of all faiths." The week's events focused on how students can be an "ally" to homosexual students, though discussion did examine "how it works at Notre Dame specifically and what the relationship between Catholicism and being an ally is," the campus newspaper reported.
A November 2013 panel discussion on campus brought an admission from a member of the University Counseling Center that she is bisexual. Dr. Maureen Lafferty, who is also a Notre Dame professor, also said that "folks who are bi, they sometimes have a special angle on multiple identities, the fact that we are very interesting people." Lafferty's personal biography on the campus website says her interests include "spending time near water and/or at home with my partner and our furry family."
Another panelist, Dr. Jan Poorman, was reported to have told students that when it comes to transgender issues, the Church "must rethink what we say about the immorality of those medically necessary procedures and processes that people feel must undergo oftentimes without even knowing all the medical reasons underlie the sense that they do not belong in their bodies." Poorman also indicated there is a spectrum of human genders.
Poorman is the Director of Formation and Field Education in Notre Dame's Department of Theology.
Last year, the Gay & Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame & St. Mary's (GLAND) applied for status as an official alumni association of Notre Dame. In a document for members, it says it hopes to "influence" the issue of non-discrimination policies on campus "better...from the 'inside.'" The group also supports same-sex "marriage."
Brown said the group was not approved to be part of the Notre Dame Alumni Association.