by Brian Garvey ’20
Recently, students packed Ruane 105 to hear a debate of the “Freedom of Speech On a Catholic Campus” sponsored by the Providence College Republicans. The event, which took place on Tuesday, April 17, consisted of a panel of three speakers: Dr. Joseph Cammarano, associate professor within the political science and public and community service departments, Father Bonaventure Chapman, O.P., an assistant chaplain for Campus Ministry, and Grant Strobl, a senior at the University of Michigan and the National Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom.
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Strobl is also the founder of Young Americans for Freedom at his school. He gained notoriety at UofM and in the news when he took advantage of a rule in the UofM handbook that allowed students to choose the pronouns by which they are referred. To generate awareness of the rule, he set his pronoun as “His Majesty,” and encouraged other students to write similarly outlandish names. Grant has given over 30 presentations and speeches “about his experiences fighting for the freedom of speech on college campuses and how to promote conservative values to millennials.”
While every seat in Ruane 105 was filled, the atmosphere at the event was quiet and respectful. The talk was formatted in an informal debate style, in which there were three questions provided by PC Republicans that were answered by each panel speaker; one from the theological perspective, the educational perspective, and the conservative millennial perspective. After each panel member responded to the question, two questions from the crowd were posed, with the process repeating after each question.
The first question posed was, “Regardless of the provocative nature of Catholic tradition in a progressive era, should the expression of religious ideals be protected by freedom of speech?” Fr. Bonaventure spoke extensively on this subject, stating, “Speech is about the true revelation of yourself. If your freedom is not for truth, then it is not really freedom of speech. Hindering truth is denying a right to a person. Every protection of religious truth, especially at a Catholic institution, is therefore a necessity.”
The second question posed was, “Are some people’s feelings of offense more important than others? If so, how is that category defined?” Strobl spoke the most on this subject, stating, “I wouldn’t create a hierarchy of who deserves a right to speech because that implies we are going to sensor those who are willing to speak. I think that is a dangerous path. I would rather approach this as fighting speech with more speech.”
When asked by a student if even communist supporters should be given a safe space to speak on campus, Cammarano stated, “At an institution of higher education, a member of the communist party must have a safe space. A member of the Fascist Party, a member of the Democratic Party, a member of the Republican Party, a member of the Socialist Party, a member of the Libertarian Party, must all have the opportunity and freedom to speak.”
The third question posed was, “Is the idea of protecting a person from hearing viewpoints that they find offensive compatible with the project of education?” To answer this, Cammarano stated emphatically, “Hell no!” Fr. Bonaventure also stated, “Simply quoting authority won’t do. There has to be reasonable dialogue. You can’t just say ‘someone said this’ and assume it must be true! You have to tell me why. You have to deal with objections in order to learn.”
Overall, the event was well-received by the students who attended it, and the decorum was respectful and restrained. “While Providence College Democrats does not agree with the politics of Strobl, the main speaker from this event, many of the things said last night actually resonate with the condition of liberal or Democrat voices at Providence College,” said PC Democrats in a statement about the event.
“It is no secret that PC is a generally conservative campus, and liberal organizations such as PC Dems have found it very difficult to promote events or bring speakers on campus,” the statement continued.
The club went on to say, “Protecting Freedom of Speech is not limited to and should not be limited to preserving conservative voices but to keeping an open platform for all voices. We hope that moving forward, Providence College can move towards removing unnecessary barriers to political activism for all ideologies.”
Undoubtedly, every club, student, and professor can resonate with the message of free speech for every individual. For more information about Strobl, you can visit his website at www.GrantStrobl.com.