The Boston College Law School has invited Congressman Robert Scott (D-VA) to speak at its spring commencement ceremony. Many universities, including Catholic schools such as Boston College, invite politicians to speak at commencement ceremonies, and Scott’s status as an alumnus of Boston College would seem to make him a fitting choice for this honor. However, Boston College’s decision should deeply concern Catholics, as Scott’s voting record runs completely contrary to Catholic teaching in multiple ways.
Congressman Scott has consistently received strong ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America. In fact, he has received a 100 percent rating from NARAL every single year in office. Abortion is obviously a grave sin, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns abortion in no uncertain terms, stating, “Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC 2271). Additionally, the Catechism explicitly states that opposition to abortion cannot simply be a private issue, and that legal force must be used to protect all unborn life: “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation” (CCC 2273).
Scott’s advocacy of the so-called “Equality Act” is also problematic. This legislation, which is currently being debated in Congress, would force secular ideology upon all federally funded organizations, requiring all of them to treat people according to their gender identity rather than their actual biological sex. The editors at National Review recently highlighted how such requirements have done terrible harm at the local level. For example, in Connecticut, two boys who identified as female took first and second place at an event in the girls’ high school track championships. Such legislation has also caused issues in prisons, as female inmates have experienced increased rates of sexual assault from being housed with men who identify as women.
Furthermore, the Equality Act would repeal provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The RFRA passed through both houses of Congress with nearly unanimous support from both Democrats and Republicans in 1993, yet Scott and many of his colleagues want to repeal it. The Equality Act would have done more harm than good without repealing the RFRA. But with the RFRA repeal included, the bill becomes essentially impossible for any devout religious believer to support.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a letter articulating several additional issues with the Equality Act. Among them is the fact that Catholic schools would be subject to the bill’s regulations because they often participate in the National School Lunch Program, which is federally funded. Even this small bit of federal funding would bind Catholic schools to the entirety of the Equality Act’s provisions.
Catholics should oppose all unjust discrimination; however, the alleged “non-discrimination” requirements of the Equality Act would prevent Catholic schools from advancing the values of the Catholic faith at the most fundamental levels. Under the Equality Act, Catholic schools could not decline to hire teachers who are “married” to someone of the same sex. They also could not decline to hire people who identify as the opposite sex, or even people who identify as no particular sex act all, as doing so would constitute an illegal act of discrimination.
It is also important to clarify that people who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria must be treated with love, compassion, and respect. Additionally, these people encounter challenges that most of us will never experience. Helping these people, and all people who are marginalized in our society, must be a Catholic priority.
That being said, people who openly contradict Church teaching on these topics should not be responsible for teaching and catechizing children in Catholic schools. This is not an act of discrimination aimed specifically at people who identify as LGBT; Catholic schools should refrain from hiring people who oppose Church teaching in other ways, too. For example, Catholic schools should not hire any teacher, gay or straight, whose public life is marred by immorality. This is not because such people should not be shown our love and mercy—it is because like all other private institutions, Catholic schools have a right to hold certain moral expectations of their employees.
Given Congressman Scott’s support for legislation that clearly violates Catholic teaching on moral issues of incredible importance, it seems odd and inappropriate for a Catholic school such as Boston College to honor him by asking him to speak at commencement. Catholic schools have a duty to advance the values of the faith and show God’s love to the world. By implicitly supporting a politician who supports all pro-choice legislation and wants to completely strip Catholic organizations of their religious liberty, Boston College is failing to do this.
My criticism of Congressman Scott’s voting record is not an endorsement of all Republican politicians since the GOP has their own elected officials who support policies that violate Catholic moral teaching. Any politician, Republican or Democrat, who supports the culture of death and opposes religious liberty does not deserve to be honored by a Catholic school.
There are many issues where Catholics of goodwill can disagree. Most public policy debates involve the exercise of prudential judgment. When applying principles of Catholic social thought to particular legislation, there should be no expectation that Catholics will agree on every point. But on fundamental moral questions, all Catholics regardless of party affiliation should agree, including university administrators.
Abortion and religious liberty are issues where Church teaching is crystal clear. It is one thing to honor politicians who are on the left or the right side of the political playing field. It is another thing to honor politicians who go so far in one direction that they have run out of bounds. Congressman Scott has clearly run out of bounds. A public official who has utterly failed as a role model for the legal profession (or any other) is unfit to be honored by Boston College Law School.