The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution clearly intended for religion to not influence politics, and for politics and religion to not impede free speech. The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Catholic community are trying to strong-arm Carnegie Mellon University into censoring the free speech of a student who was exercising her rights under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, and in accordance with the University's Policy on Freedom of Expression, just because it was critical of the Catholic Church. No church can or should be allowed to stifle the political speech of any individual or group in the United States just because that church has a strong influence in the community.
- President, Jared L. Cohon
Carnegie Mellon University
- Vice President for Campus Affairs, Michael Murphy
Carnegie Mellon University
As members of the Pittsburgh community and beyond, we are concerned for the future of free expression and free speech among Pittsburgh's university student population, as well as the continued freedoms and enrollment status of the Carnegie Mellon University student at the center of this current controversy, and the implications for a more universal application of any such suppression if it is permitted in this case.
You have stated that you will review this case in concert with the University's rules on Freedom of Expression. The Carnegie Mellon University policies on Freedom of Expression state, in part:
"The university must be a place where all ideas may be expressed freely and where no alternative is withheld from consideration. The only limits on these freedoms are those dictated by law and those necessary to protect the rights of other members of the University community and to ensure the normal functioning of the University.... CONTROVERSY CANNOT BE PERMITTED TO ABRIDGE THE FREEDOMS OF SPEECH, THOUGHT, EXPRESSION OR ASSEMBLY. They are not matters of convenience, but of necessity." [Emphasis added]
In particular, Catholic Bishop David Zubick has stated that he has contacted the university, in his official capacity as the head of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, asking you to censure, suspend, and discipline the student whose peaceful participation in a public demonstration was critical of the Catholic Church. He has been joined by The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
We are asking that Carnegie Mellon University please follow its own University policies, and not cave in to pressure from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. This would not only infringe on the student's First Amendment Rights as an American and her rights as a student of Carnegie Mellon University, it would set a dangerous precedent for many other protesters in the United States, that they would need to seek the permission of religious, and perhaps political, leaders before they hold rallies, protests, or other forms of political and societal speech normally protected under the Constitution of the United States and other institutional policies, just because that speech or expression is considered offensive to the criticized party, or face penalties, retribution, and censure. This is exactly the circumstance for which the First Amendment was created.
Bishop Zubick and The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights can be appalled all they want, they can be scandalized all they want, and they can seek to protect the reputation of their church all they want, but they cannot, and should not be permitted to, suppress anyone's free speech or freedom of expression just because they find it offensive or critical of their faith, and they should not be permitted to tell Carnegie Mellon University not to uphold its own policies. We respectfully ask Carnegie Mellon University to consider this woman's rights as it reviews her actions in question.
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