Georgetown’s website proclaims it is “the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institute of higher learning in the United States” and is “deeply rooted in the Catholic faith.” One campus group is learning, however, Georgetown’s roots might not be deep enough.
Love Saxa is a recognized student group on the Georgetown campus, and it exists “to promote healthy relationships on campus through cultivating a proper understanding of sex, gender, marriage, and family among Georgetown students.” Given the emphasis the Catholic Church puts on these issues (for example, see here and here), and Love Saxa’s alignment with church doctrine, one might believe it safe to assume Love Saxa is squarely within safe territory at a Catholic university.
But, oh, the perils of assumption. Love Saxa is in danger of being stripped of its status as an official student group. Its offense: holding to a Catholic view of human sexuality.
Confessions of a College Virgin
Love Saxa has courted controversy before, what with its propensity to unapologetically express a Catholic view at a Catholic institution. A recent opinion editorial by the group’s president, Amelia Irvine, ignited the current scandal.
On September 6, Georgetown’s student newspaper, The Hoya, published Irvine’s “Confessions of a College Virgin.” In it, Irvine describes Love Saxa’s dedication to “healthy relationships and sexual integrity,” including its stance on premarital sex, sexual complementarity, and same-sex marriage. Suffice it to say, in an age where universities commonly use school funds to sponsor “sex weeks” and lectures by porn stars, Love Saxa seeks to stimulate an embrace of chastity.
The resulting outrage was palpable. In a complaint filed with the university through its internal grievance process, student Jasmin Ouseph issued a blistering critique of Love Saxa’s “violent…dehumanizing…hateful, and…dangerous” “rhetoric.” Ouseph left no doubt of her desired outcome, stating “what I’m asking for is for Love Saxa to no longer be recognized by the University.” The Hoya’s editorial board likewise published a response to Irvine’s “Confessions,” imploring the Student Activities Commission to “defund intolerance.”
On October 30, the commission will hold a hearing to determine Love Saxa’s fate.
Chastity: The New Scarlet Letter
Sifting through the allegations leveled in the complaint and editorial, Love Saxa’s offense becomes abundantly clear. The group holds views that are unapologetically consistent with Catholic doctrine. Specifically, Love Saxa agrees with the Catholic Church that sex belongs within the context of a marriage relationship, and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
These Catholic beliefs, according to the editorial board and Ouseph, are tantamount to intolerance, violence, and hate. These Catholic beliefs, they say, also do not belong at a Catholic university. In asking the university to de-recognize Love Saxa, Ouseph and the editorial board point to Georgetown’s “Student Organization Standards,” which, among other things, bar student organizations from official recognition if they “foster hatred or intolerance of others because of their race, nationality, gender, religion or sexual preference.”
Ouseph argues Love Saxa’s stance on marriage constitutes “unquestionable intolerance” and “clearly excludes same-sex couples,” which in turn “fosters hatred.” The complaint, which incorporates testimony from other students, goes on to label the group’s views as “archaic,” “cissexist,” “homophobic,” “transphobic,” “queerphobic,” “oppressive,” “dehumanizing,” “hateful,” and “dangerous.” In response to Love Saxa’s stance that the group’s positions are consistent with the Catholic Church, the complaint labels such a reliance on Catholic teaching as a “disgrace.”
Ouseph concluded her complaint by stating that if the university allows Love Saxa to remain a recognized student group, it will be “disheartening” and demonstrate “that the (Catholic) University shares Love Saxa’s view of marriage – as between a man and woman with the intent of raising biological children.”
Love Wins, You Sickening Bigots
Apart from marveling at the force with which they attack the Catholic beliefs of a student group at one of the nation’s preeminent Catholic universities, it is impossible to read the complaint or editorial without wondering how Ouseph and The Hoya’s editorial board can vehemently reject a Catholic view of marriage and sexuality; label it archaic, hateful, and dangerous; advocate for Georgetown to de-recognize Love Saxa; and do all this without recognizing their own position as “foster[ing] hatred or intolerance of others because of their…religion.”
In contrast, Love Saxa has not sought to advocate for the de-recognition of the multiple LGBT groups on campus, even though the same Student Organization Standards cited in the complaint bar student organizations that are “inconsistent with acceptable conduct at an American university committed to the Roman Catholic moral tradition.” It has not called for the dissolution of the LGBTQ Resource Center or protested the university’s Lavender Graduation ceremonies.
On the contrary, Love Saxa has demonstrated a commitment to engaging in dialogue rather than seeking to silence divergent perspectives. (Meanwhile, Ouseph says it is an “undue burden” for “queer students to have to dialogue with people” who hold different views on human sexuality.)
Love Saxa’s stance is worthy of respect even in the face of disagreement. Justice Kennedy said as much when he penned the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which invalidated state laws defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Kennedy wrote: “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
Will a Catholic University Dare to Be Catholic?
What remains to be seen is what approach Georgetown University will take. Clearly, the decision will be very much in the light, not in the shadows like recent events at Queen’s College in New York, Georgia Gwinnett College, or the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
In those cases, my colleagues at the ADF Center for Academic Freedom are defending the First Amendment rights of students and organizations that have been punished for their political or religious views. As a private university, Georgetown is not constrained by the First Amendment. Thus, while ADF continues to represent and advise Love Saxa, Georgetown’s pending decision is primarily ideological.
Will it hold to its deep roots of faith, or cast them aside in favor of a new orthodoxy of human sexuality? Will it continue in its Jesuit tradition and resulting commitment to “religious and cultural pluralism,” or seek to compel uniformity of thought? Will it remain a marketplace of ideas, or expel particular views from campus?
More to the point, will Georgetown decide it is Catholic, or not?