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August 05, 2008

The AALS and Boycotts—revisited and thought through

I begin by thanking Tom and Susan for their contributions regarding the AALS annual meeting and the desire of certain groups of law teachers to boycott the early-New Year conference because the owner of the hotel, Mr. Manchester—who, by the way is a practicing Catholic according to news sources—contributed to the political campaign geared for the fall electoral season to address the California Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision in In Re Marriage Cases. It seems that Mr. Manchester disagrees with the majority opinion in that case, and he, along with other citizens of California, are using the means of democracy to express their disagreement.

According to the article about this matter appearing in the National Law Journal to which Tom kindly gave us the link, Mr. Manchester, the hotel owner, employs men and women who, in some fashion, identify themselves as homosexual. So, it appears that there is no employment or other discrimination prohibited by the law such that may offer protections that address this inclination.

But the boycott is focused on something else that the law also addresses, and that is Mr. Manchester’s Constitutional, and I would say God-given, right to participate in the political process. The problem with that, according to the law faculty who have expressed their decision to boycott his hotel, and perhaps the conference, is based on Mr. Manchester’s political contribution to a side in a referendum endorsed by the California Supreme Court. In short, these law faculty are challenging his right to exercise his political voice.

This is a tragedy, but it is also a violation of the law. How ironic that those who teach law would object to a person’s right to exercise his political voice in a democratic exercise. This is not the sort of thing one would expect in a democracy, but it may be the sort of thing to which one could expect in a totalitarian state.

Many years ago, in the 1930s, Christopher Dawson, the first holder of the Charles Chauncey Stillman Chair of Roman Catholic Theological Studies at Harvard University, had these words to say about the totalitarian mind in the academy and in society:

The totalitarian state—and perhaps the modern state in general—is not satisfied with passive obedience; it demands full co-operation from the cradle to the grave… [I]f Christians cannot assert their right to exist in the sphere of higher education, they will eventually be pushed not only out of modern culture but out of physical existence. That is already the issue in Communist countries, and it will also become the issue in England (Mr. Dawson’s country of birth) and America if we do not use our opportunities while we still have them.

I find Mr. Dawson’s counsel wise and timely. I hope that it benefits those who may be attending or may be considering attending the AALS conference early next year. If you join the boycott, you have certainly expressed your political decision. In that case, let Mr. Manchester and those who agree with him be able to exercise, without intimidation or any other pressure, their political decision, too. That is what democracy is about. But when it no longer is, then democracy has mutated into the totalitarian regime to which it is supposed to stand in clear counterpoint—and this would make our national motto, e pluribus unum, rather ironic indeed.

RJA sj

Posted by Robert John Araujo, SJ on August 5, 2008 at 06:56 PM in Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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