Catholic=Republican=Federalist Society? --UPDATED
Cathleen Kaveny March 26, 2009 - 7:22am
I've been at Notre Dame long enough to know that controversies here --and on the Catholic blogosphere--are like tempests in a teapot. You talk to someone from somewhere else and they are surprised to learn what's going on--especially if they're not Catholic.Still, if you grab onto the teacup handle for balance and look around, some interesting tea leaves with broader import float by. My colleague Rick Garnett, who is opposed to the Obama invitation, commends to our attention a petition protesting it. In addition to the St. Thomas More Society (the Catholic law students group), it was also signed by the Notre Dame College Republicans and the Notre Dame Law School Federalist Society.Now I understand (although I don't agree with ) with the position of the St. Thomas More Society. I think they are completely within their rights to express their views, given the nature of the organization. But I don't understand the College Republicans and the Federalists. Do the College Republicans oppose the Democratic President speaking at any and all graduations? Does the Federalist Society take a stand against any and all speakers with a different agenda for the court system receiving any honor at any institution of higher learning? I wasn't aware that they did.Or are the College Republicans and the Federalists taking a stand on whether a Catholic institution ought to invite the President? The petition itself certainly suggests that they are. But what special interest or competence, precisely as Republicans or Federalists, do they have in issues of Catholic moral theology and Catholic institutional identity?At Notre Dame Law School, I suspect that there is a heavy overlap among the three groups, among students and some faculty, such as Professor Garnett.Nonetheless, I would think this would be a good "teaching" moment to suggest, especially, that the equation in the title of the post does not inevitably and always hold true. Qua Republican, qua Federalist, it does not seem to me that one has a particular interest or competence in what a Catholic institution does.For the good of the Church, and the political community, it seems to me we ought to keep these distinctions in mind. It's very easy, for example, for Catholics who are not Republican to dismiss some of our most outspoken prelates as Republican party operatives when they speak on the life issues. Incidents like this make it even easier.UPDATE: THE NOTRE DAME LAW SCHOOL FEDERALIST SOCIETY HAS NOW DECIDED TO REMOVE ITS NAME FROM THE PETITION, BECAUSE SIGNING SUCH A PETITION IS INCONSISTENT WITH ITS STATED NEUTRALITY ON POLICY POSITIONS.
About the Author
Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.