Religion's War on Sex: Academia Edition

JESUSLAND—Quick show of hands: How many of you knew that Boston College is, rather than the secular institution its simple name would imply, actually a private Jesuit research university which, according to Wikipedia, is "Not to be confused with Boston University"?

See, at BU, there'd never be a problem if a bunch of students wanted to set up what is essentially a free contraception clinic in a couple (well, let's say 18) of the university's dorm rooms—but at BC, it's another story.

The clinic, which takes up practically an entire BC dorm floor, is called "Safe Sites," sponsored by the Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH), a non-recognized student group, and what the students who run the clinic do is hand out condoms, lube and other materials to make their fellow students' sexual experiences more enjoyable. And they've been doing it for the past two years, with the college's tacit approval since it was aware of the clinic and hadn't seen fit to do anything about it ... until about two weeks ago.

"While we understand that you may not be intentionally violating university policy, we do need to advise you that should we receive any reports that you are, in fact, distributing condoms on campus, the matter would be referred to the student conduct office for disciplinary action by the university," wrote Paul Chebator, dean of students, and George Arey, dean of residence life, in a March 15 letter to Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH, and others.

The letter also stated that the condom distribution was at odds with the administration's "responsibility to protect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic ­institution."

The missive shocked and surprised Jekanowski since according to an article in USA Today, the college had never reached out to BCSSH to express concerns before sending the letter.

"We've had a very open relationship and it's been very positive," Jekanowski said. "This letter was very warmongering and threatening."

And incredibly sex-negative as well, since as columnist Annie-Rose Strasser noted, "Studies have shown that condom distribution, at least at the high school level, does not increase the amount of intercourse young people have. It does, however, lead to a rise in condom use and thus encourages safe sex practices that not only limit unintentional pregnancies, but also cut down on the amount of sexually transmitted infections—a big problem on college campuses, including Jesuit ones. ... One Catholic university is even dropping its student health care coverage altogether to avoid potentially offering contraception to students one day down the line."

Revisionist History Lessons in Louisiana

And speaking of high school, readers might want to think twice before sending their kids to any of the 119 approved private (mostly religious) schools in Louisiana that accept state tuition vouchers. See, one of the textbooks those voucher students use is titled America: Land I Love, and it's got some strange ideas of what the hippies of the late 1960s were up to.

"Many young people turned to drugs and immoral lifestyles; these youth became known as hippies," part of the text reads. "They went without bathing, wore dirty, ragged, unconventional clothing, and deliberately broke all codes of politeness or manners. Rock music played an important part in the hippie movement and had great influence over the hippies. Many of the rock musicians they followed belonged to Eastern religious cults or practiced Satan worship." [Emphasis in original]

(A personal note: As a former hippie, I and most of my hippie friends were exceptionally polite, even if we did wear weird clothes and didn't give a shit which fork you use to eat the salad course with—and those of us living on the streets took showers whenever we could find someone willing to let us use theirs, which fortunately was fairly often. And while some of the Beatles may have had a thing for Ravi Shankar and flirted with Hinduism and Buddhism a bit, most rockers of the day barely had any idea what an Eastern religion—much less a cultish one—even was ... and not even Black Sabbath "practiced Satan worship.")

Of course, it's not just recent history that America: Land I Love and other textbooks (like Life Science) get wrong. Among some of the claims by their authors:

• "Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years";

• "The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well," and (referring to Roe v. Wade) "Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality, and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person but rather the 'property' of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford)."

• And as Mother Jones magazine reports, in United States History: Heritage of Freedom, a revisionist text that's especially poignant today, it's stated, "Perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. … Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America."

As you might guess, real sex education in both public and private schools is practically non-existent, with the state legislature in 2012 having rejected a bill, HB 820, that would require that it be taught.

Oh; and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who approved those textbooks and several others like them, just might be running for President in 2016.

Symbolic Logic in Florida

Finally, there's Ryan Rotela, a student at Florida Atlantic University who clearly had no idea what was being taught in one of his courses.

See, according to the university's website, Deandre Poole—a black man!—"teaches courses in intercultural communication, ethnicity and communication, leadership and communication, and organizational communication. His research focuses on the role mediated messages play in shaping individual attitudes and beliefs concerning issues of justice and inequality, and examines how leaders, organizations, and other influential authorities dominate and oppress marginalized groups of people."

Right-wing blogger Todd Starnes quoted a description of one of Poole's lessons as follows: "Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture." [Emphasis added]

The purpose of the lesson would be clear to anyone even vaguely familiar with communications theory: Words are symbols; they have no concrete reality of their own. They purport to describe the real world, but that world may be described in many ways, and to confuse the real world with one of those symbols is to fail to appreciate the power that the symbol/word has over humans' reasoning and emotional processes, and which often impel the individual to take actions in the real world based on the symbol(s).

And if there's one symbol that's likely caused an incalcuable number of actions among humans everywhere, it's got to be the name "Jesus."

Apparently, student Rotela didn't understand that, since A) he not only hesitated but outright refused to take part in the assignment, and B) filed some sort of complaint with university administrators about the assignment. The university reacted by barring Rotela from Poole's class and forbidding him from having contact with any of his fellow classmates in Poole's course. (Rumors that Rotela had been suspended from school were false.)

Indeed, Rotela, a "devout Mormon," told The Christian Post, "Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value. … So if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value." Or to use some other words, Res ipsa loquitur.

The details of the complaint haven't been made public, but according to the blog, "The 'Notice of Charges' accused [Rotela] of using threatening language. ... Rotela’s attorney said he believes the perceived threat came when Rotela told the teacher 'don’t do that again'—in reference to stomping on the paper. The student also told the instructor, 'You’ll be hearing from me.'"

It's easy to understand, after incidents like those detailed here, that in light of Rotela's threats, the university might be a bit nervous about letting him continue at the school.

And of course, the Right-Wing Religious Whackjobs (RWRWs) have been all over this news.

"What is going on in society?" asked owner Bobby Eberle. "The Christian Post rightfully points out a comment by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who questioned, '[Would] any program at FAU have allowed "Muhammad" to be written on the paper and stomped instead?' I'm sure we all know the answer to that question."

(Yeah, we do, Bobby: If the name "Muhammad" were held in anywhere near as high esteem in the U.S. as "Jesus," Poole could easily have used that word. It's not the religion that matters; it's the cultural impact of the word.)

Heritage Foundation columnist (and RWRW radio host) Dennis Praeger also used the Muhammad analogy, then upped the ante with an American cultural icon: "Or, imagine if the name had been MARTIN LUTHER KING. FAU professors would have competed with one another in expressing outrage at this example of the racism that pervades the university and America. The president of the university would have issued a statement condemning the professor and distancing FAU from his action."

(No; y'see, Dennis, not everyone has as much difficulty understanding the assignment as you do—and again, even among African Americans and leftists—did we mention that most of the articles on this topic are quick to note that Poole is the vice-chair of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party?—King's name is not held in as high esteem as "Jesus.")

Commented yet another winger attorney, Mat Staver—head of Liberty Counsel, which is based at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law—“It is absolutely outrageous that the professor would want to have this kind of an assignment to stomp on the name of Jesus. This is just outrageous. I can see absolutely no educational or pedagogical reason for this kind of an exercise other than outright hostility to Christianity and a desire to offend the students."

(Yeah, Mat, you probably can't—and that's why such lessons are necessary.)

The upshot, however, is that after the university was contacted by Hiram Sasser, an attorney for the (RWRW) Liberty Institute, they expunged Rotela's record and somehow will be allowing Rotela to take the course under a different professor.

"It just takes one person to stand up against this type of aggressive nonsense," Sasser told (who else?) Fox News. "It also takes like-minded people standing together to say we are not going to tolerate this type of religious bigotry."