EDIT: This is an updated article. The attached editorial contains an amended version which reflects new information brought to the College Tribune.
This article is an amended version of an editorial published in the College Tribune on January 28th, entitled “The Disinvitation of Jason Evert was a Grave Mistake.” Since the publishing of this editorial, this newspaper has become aware of new information which has inspired this edited version.
The below editorial notes that UCD were responsible for the rescindment of Evert’s invitation. We can now report that this move was the decision of the Ignite 2020 committee. This committee is made up of university students around Ireland, including two members from UCD’s Newman Catholic Society. The society was responsible for booking the UCD venue on behalf of the Ignite 2020 group. The students received multiple threats that Evert’s event would be protested. In light of this, the committee collectively decided to rescind Evert’s invitation and change the location of the event in order to prevent protest. The committee made the decision after mounting public pressure deflected from the purpose of the Ignite 2020 Student Retreat. The event had over 100 students attending over January 16-18 and is said to have gone very successfully.
The position of this newspaper remains in favour of free speech and open discourse on campus. Although it is not believed that UCD played as key a role in Evert’s disinvitation as previously understood, our core message remains clear. The disinvitation was a mistake, and the public calls for the cancellation of this event are misguided and ignorant to the diversity of viewpoints that exist outside of this university. Without the opportunity for debate on campus, decisions like this only pushes these views into the fringe and discourages engagement, reconciliation and depolarisation of opinions.
The event in question, should Evert’s talk have gone ahead, undoubtedly would have had the opportunity for students to converse, question and exchange opinions based on the ideas put forward. Such opportunities allow for students to contest Evert’s contentious ideas.
Evert’s views are controversial to many UCD students, yet we stand firm in asserting that debate or deliberation must not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even most members of the community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the UCD community, not for an organisation or collective of vocal individuals, to make those judgements for themselves, and to act on those judgements not by seeking to supress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.
Jason Evert, a US Catholic author and public speaker was recently due to speak at the UCD ‘Ignite 2020’ event on 16th January. Evert is the co-founder of the ‘Chastity Project’ in which he promotes chastity amongst young people, as well as other catholic values. This talk was part of a planned tour to Ireland. A tour that unfortunately never happened.
In an online statement, the UCD LGBTQ+ Society called on UCD authorities to stop Evert from speaking at Ignite 2020. They said that by inviting him, UCD were “putting the safety of UCD’s LGBTQ+ community at risk,” and that his views and “hateful ideology” could do “lasting untold damage.”
Evert has been criticised for his views on homosexuality. In one previous talk he said: “The Catholic Church [says] you can acknowledge you have same-sex attractions, you can tell your family members or whoever it is you care to disclose that information to but to realise that your other options isn’t just to come out and make up your own rules with sexuality but you can actually lead a pure life with the grace of God. This option isn’t even proposed to people who struggle with these attractions.”
After much media attention, UCD caved to these calls and rescinded Evert’s invitation to speak at the event. We believe this decision to be a grave mistake, providing another example of university authorities pandering to vocal groups by no-platforming a speaker. Such a process is doing damage to free speech and debate on campuses that cannot be understated. Although Evert’s views on chastity would have expected to be opposed by a number of university students, it is the purpose of this institution to provide a platform for open discourse and debate, and students should have been free to debate his ideas. UCD’s decision is a clear betrayal of the sanctity of the university as a hub for open discourse.
A number of Evert’s other talks in Ireland were also cancelled in similar examples of protest. His eventual cancellation of his entire trip to Ireland culminated in an online statement explaining his inability to travel “due to illness.”
Section 1 of the UCD Student Charter contains the following promise: “Provide an environment where free speech, independent thought, academic freedom and integrity are fundamental principles.” UCD has acted against these principles by stealing away the opportunity for debate from students. Evert’s ideas may be disagreeable to some students, but to take a decisive stance towards silence rather than enlightening debate, is symptomatic of a university that cares about its image over its duty to educate and embolden the next generation.
UCD has terms and conditions for the invitation of speakers to university events. Section 5 contains the statement: “If in the University’s reasonable opinion, the event being held at UCD may prejudice the reputation of the University, the Management reserves the right to cancel the event.” One could argue that by inviting Evert, this may prejudice the reputation of UCD, and therefore provides a justification for cancelling the event. But conversely, the disinvitation of Evert has stolen the opportunity for students to debate and vigorously contest his ideas, ultimately suppressing free speech on campus. This decision paints a clear picture of where UCD’s priorities lie: in maintaining its public image, over protecting the importance of free and truthful discourse on-campus. The decision to disinvite Evert has certainly made a prejudice of UCD’s reputation.
We call on UCD to adopt a Freedom of Speech Statement modelled on the University of Chicago’s policy. Such a step from the university would help prevent these tragedies from happening again in the future. It could be addressed as follows:
“UCD’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be supressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the UCD community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the UCD community, not for UCD as an institution, to make those judgements for themselves, and to act on those judgements not by seeking to supress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”
Former president of Brown University, Ruth Simmons, once said: “One’s voice grows stronger in encounters with opposing views. […] The collision of views and ideologies is in the DNA of the academic enterprise. We do not need any collision avoidance technology here.” The university is not an intellectual ‘safe space’ but rather a chaos of alternating views all mashed up together, and it is the duty of the institution to facilitate the debate and open discourse of these views, nothing is more valuable to the pursuit of truth.