There’s something about freedom of speech that doesn’t sit well with some members of the press. Any notable who says anything provocative is in for a lecture — as if the First Amendment is some sort of “Get out of jail free” card they’re shabbily taking advantage of. The other day, Rick Majerus, the men’s basketball coach at Saint Louis University, showed up at a Hillary Clinton rally, and, being a local notable, was buttonholed by a TV reporter. She’s my candidate, he said. What about abortion rights? said the reporter. I’m for them, said Majerus. What about stem cell research? I’m for that too, said the coach. “Is this OK with Father Biondi?” said the reporter, naming the Jesuit president of the university. “Are you trying to go 60 Minutes on me?” Majerus joked in reply.
The TV guy knew he was on to something. He got in touch with the local archbishop, Raymond Burke, a conservative hothead who in earlier blowups had vowed to withhold communion from John Kerry and Rudy Giuliani because they’re prochoice and resigned from the board of a local children’s hospital when it refused to disinvite Sheryl Crow, stem cell research advocate, from performing at a benefit. Again Burke took the bait. “It is not possible for a representative of the university to espouse these views,” he said of Majerus. “They’re in open violation of moral law, let alone Catholic teaching.” He said he expected the university to discipline its coach.
Something that so far as I know the university hasn’t done. Majerus is Catholic, but Saint Louis University, despite its Jesuit roots, technically is not. Just last year the Missouri supreme court ruled that SLU “is not controlled by a religious creed” — a ruling that allowed the university to get its hands on $8 million in public money to help it build a new sports arena. Besides, the Jesuits speak only to Rome. The archbishop of Chicago has never been in a position to tell the president of Saint Louis University what to do.
The story made its way up to Chicago. And what did Rick Morrissey have to say about it? “Why should we care what a basketball coach has to say about abortion? Or, more to the point, why would a basketball coach think we should?” Morrissey went on, dutifully, “I will fight to the death for Majerus’ right to offer his opinion,” and then continued, “I will be bored to death listening to it. This is not what Majerus was hired for. Reproductive rights are not his area of expertise.”
And here’s from Jay Mariotti: “Majerus isn’t budging, citing free will. Maybe he should have realized the school mission before taking a job there, huh?”
Higher education is the school mission. Free will is even discussed in the classrooms.