Emily Walker, in Lingerie, on a Prayer Rug, in Harvard Yard?

— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on  18 May 2014, was last revised on 1 October 2014. © Govinthenews Vol. 5:05(2).

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On 16 May 2014 Emily Walker, a 2011 honors graduate from Harvard College, published a commentary on Fox News in which she complained about Harvard’s public appearance of tolerance for an on-campus anti-Catholic ritual Black Mass (which ultimately moved off-campus following vigorous public outcry in the press), while simultaneously demonstrating a systemic intolerance for anti-Muslim viewpoints.

“Imagine the scene,” she wrote, describing a strictly hypothetical setting on a crisp sun-filled spring day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, smack dab in the middle of Harvard Yard. Here, she muses , she’d exercise her right to free speech, protesting extremism. How? By urging non-Muslim students to pray toward Mecca five times in a single day, symbolically mimicking the non-Catholics who’d protested Catholicism in Harvard’s recent Black Mass. Some of the latter wore only lingerie, mocking Catholic mores that insisted women’s shoulders and knees be covered, so in her protest against Islam (whose believers have even stricter mores regarding feminine dress) she’d do the same. She’d even have a basket of pork sandwiches (Muslims, like Jews, abstain from consuming or even touching porcine flesh) to eat, and she’d do it with an ever-open prayer rug, flagrantly violating Islamic law dictating that prayer rugs be rolled up except when prayed upon.

It is her constitutional right to do this, she asserts, but — well — only on public property. And Harvard — she notes — is a private institution, so her protest would be subject to the rules of that institution (i.e., Emily upholds Harvard’s blatant trashing of the constitutional rights of its students and faculty, ignoring the fact that much progress in the western world has taken place in part because courageous students and faculty members on our private institutions stood up and spoke out against injustice, in direct violation of the institutions’ rules). By implication, those rules would work, successfully against her contrived protest, as a Catholic protesting Islam, most likely in record time, in stark contrast with Harvard’s systemic tolerance of Islam in general, and of practically any protest against any form of the Christian faith in particular (not to mention, one imagines, Emily’s reluctance to dare Harvard to use force to end her demonstration).

Still, with the scene now fully fleshed out, she asks what seems to her the quintessential question: “Should I do it?” Immediately she answers: “Absolutely not. Whether it’s private or public property.” And, immediately after that, she adds this modifier: “Especially, on private grounds that people pay to learn on, some things just shouldn’t be allowed.” But, please note, she is even against such demonstrations on public property, where the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of Free Speech are — supposedly — protected by the U.S. Government.

In other words, Emily’s symbolic protest script was nothing but that, symbolic. She wouldn’t dream of stripping down to her lingerie, laying out a pork sandwich picnic basket, and sitting on a prayer rug in the middle of Harvard Yard making mock prayers to Mecca.

But, still, she wants to make what to her is an important point. So she continues, pointing out that Harvard has been unusually accommodating to Muslim students in various ways, and yet has been less so regarding Catholicism and other forms of Christianity. This is true. Today, not only at Harvard, but also at many if not most of America’s institutions of higher learning, Muslim beliefs and sensitivities are guarded with vigor, while those of Christians are denigrated, in clear violation of American laws against religious discrimination (which laws extend, one believes, to both public and private venues). Emily rightly complains that her personal Catholic beliefs were regularly mocked in the Harvard classroom during her tenure there as an undergrad, then as a graduate student. Yet nothing similar — in the way of religious mockery — was ever allowed regarding the Muslim faith.

Only Christianity is up for intellectual debate,” she writes, adding that “…Black Masses aren’t blocked, but activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is blocked from receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis University for speaking out against Islam.” Then she penned what appears to be the crux of her dissertation: “If American colleges continue their tolerance of intolerance, the latter will quickly overpower the former.

By that she meant that yes, it is perfectly understandable that Harvard won’t tolerate mockery of Islam, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so, therefore, Harvard should also not tolerate mockery of Christianity.

In other words — while Emily tepidly rails against today’s brand of religious discrimination in America, and thus defends meaning of the first clause of the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution — Emily has no real use for the 1st Amendment’s clauses that follow:

First Amendment to the United States Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

On one hand, she seems critical of Harvard’s intolerance of anti-Islam protestation. Yet, on the other, she condemns similar protests against other forms institutionalized religion, including Catholicism, despite the clear reading of the 1st Amendment that grants Americans the right of Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Speech, Ms. Walker, is a sacred right in America that should be championed in every venue within this great land, even on the grounds of Harvard University and within its halls, whether public or private. We must never forget that America was founded on the premise that all beliefs are subject to debate, and everyone has a right to express their opinions regarding a belief or set of beliefs in a public way, where anyone can judge their expressed views. All forms of religion, regardless of their nature, origins, and present practices, should be expected to stand — or fall — in accord with their capacity for defending their precepts when questions about those precepts, from believers and unbelievers alike, arise. That premise insists that no system of religious dogma should ever be considered so sacred as to be above peaceable, i.e., non-violent, investigation and public examination, not to mention protestation. None, whatsoever.

Throughout America, of all places on this planet, every one of the mores espoused and demonstrated by Islam, and of the sects and followers of those sects of Islam, and all of the moral codes and religious laws enumerated under the broad umbrella of Sharia, should be openly subject to full debate by anyone, anywhere, anytime, regardless, and the rights of Americans to publicly voice their opinions and judgements regarding Islam should be protected by all in authority, by use of force if need be, so long as those expressing their views do so peaceably and without advocating violence or attempting to incite violence in others. Yet, few if any of those topics are being debated publicly today, even within America. One gathers from her writing that if Emily had her way that would be just fine, because, as she put it, some things (specifically Islamic and Catholic beliefs) should not be debated in public settings.

I boldly ask “Why not?” But I know the answer, and it isn’t pretty.

The only reason Islamic beliefs are not discussed openly and publicly is because so-called extremists within the Islamic faith have vowed to do bodily harm to, and even kill, those who dare to speak or write about Islam in unflattering ways. We Americans appear as a nation of cowards when we cow-tow to such threats the way that Harvard, Brandeis, Yale, and — you name it — all the other so-called institutions of higher learning  are presently doing. Ah, but cowardice is an enduring human trait. History proves that. And the tone of Ms. Walker’s exposition is strong evidence that human nature has not changed much in that regard over the past five hundred years…

Today, when scholars — regardless of their denominational affiliations, including Catholics — recall Martin Luther’s protest against certain spurious Catholic doctrines and practices of his day (doctrines and practices that most, though not all, Catholics consider outrageous today), their tone is almost universally that of praise. But today’s praise is in direct contrast with the condemnation Luther met, when in 1517 he courageously nailed his list of 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Luther realized his actions could have ended in conviction of heresy, followed by a long, painful death at the hands of the Holy See’s inquisitors, but he took the risk, and ultimately prevailed. Today’s Christianity is a happy beneficiary of that result.

Luther protested when protestation against the religious mores of the day was almost universally condemned. Without his act of courage the world would have languished in moral darkness for many more years. Darkness still lives on, and protestations against it are still rare, but future historians will record the courage of those who, today, stand up and illuminate dark corners wherever they can be found. Today’s Islamic culture of violence and intolerance must be squashed, and — as history is our inerrant guide — squashed it shall be, just as the Catholic Church’s culture of violence and intolerance of another time was also squashed. But the squashing that is needed today of Islam’s extremists will not be done by weak-kneed, timid, and cowardly men and women who are more concerned about slights to their own religious beliefs than in speaking the truth fearlessly and vigorously.

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