By DONALD DeMARCO
Pro-life students at Oklahoma State University, called “Cowboys for Life,” asked permission from their university to erect a pro-life display on campus back in October 2012. The university turned them down for the dubious reason that attracting students to walk through the grass to the display would damage “the declining condition” of the school’s lawns. But, as “Cowboys for Life” pointed out, the school had approved other displays in the same area. The university also forbade the students from distributing leaflets.
For these and other prohibitions, not imposed on any other campus group, CFL filed a lawsuit in federal court maintaining that the university was guilty of discrimination. Brently Olsson, the students’ lawyer, argued that the school’s prohibitions were “patently un-American.”
“A state actor can’t decide,” he argued, “which speech they favor and which they don’t favor.”
In March 2014, Oklahoma State University chose to pay $25,000 in legal damages in order to avoid any admission of guilt.
The suppression of pro-life students at universities across North America is rampant and scandalous. The OSU case is of particular interest because the university preferred to remain legally free of guilt rather than admit that it had deliberately violated the pro-life students’ First Amendment rights. The latter, seemingly, would be too much to admit. It would require an extraordinary act of integrity for the school to acknowledge that it is guilty of taking funds from the U.S. government while denying the exercise of some of its students’ constitutional rights.
In acknowledging such guilt, it would also be admitting to being indifferent to the mass slaughter of innocent lives in the womb, discrimination against its own students, and a blatant disregard of its own alleged commitment to tolerance, diversity, and freedom of speech. Under such circumstance, $25,000 seems to be a small price to pay for the mask of innocence.
Psychotherapist Rollo May, in his book, Power and Innocence, deals with the topic of “pseudoinnocence,” a pretense of innocence that is both unrealistic and un-virtuous. “When we face questions too big and too horrendous to contemplate,” he writes, “we tend to shrink into this kind of innocence. . . . In America, pseudoinnocence has a history as long as the country’s.”
Has the denial of constitutionally guaranteed rights become too much for some universities to bear? Will the price of pseudoinnocence continue to rise as more and more pro-life groups take legal action?
But, in a larger sense, the real price of pseudoinnocence is not to be measured in dollars. The real price of one’s complicity in wrongdoing is much steeper. It is measured in a form of dishonesty that seeks to hide from reality and, as a consequence, brings genuine harm to others. The true meaning of “innocence” (from the Latin in + nocens) is “not harmful,” without evil influence or effect. Washing one’s hands of the truly innocent, while exposing them to real harm, brings to mind the unflattering image of Pontius Pilate.
Nonetheless, it is not expected that any university will soon be adopting the name, Pontius Pilate University.
Pro-life students are not only defending the rights of the unborn, but, as it turns out in many instances in America, the very Constitution of the land. Their scope is far broader than most people realize. Their fight is not only between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death, but also between Americans and pseudo-Americans. A voice such as theirs has always been needed in American history.
Was that formidable and multi-talented American patriot, Benjamin Franklin, shrinking into a kind of pseudoinnocence when he made the following comment pertaining to Native Americans: “If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited the seacoasts.”
OSU, along with other contemporary bastions of “education,” has engaged in a kind of Goliath versus David confrontation. The former has the might, but the latter has the right.
Such examples of pseudoinnocence abound in contemporary society not only in academia, but also in the media, in the medical profession, and especially in politics.
A reliable model of true innocence, therefore, is much needed. One may look to St. Francis of Assisi who was free of discrimination because he recognized the grand fraternity of all human beings, and even extended this warm and courteous kinship to Brother Sun and Sister Moon. The innocence of St. Francis is one of enduring significance. It should be imitated as much as possible, for his confraternity is nonconfrontational.
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(Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.)