Conservative Activists Stage Protest Against “Queering the Bible” Course

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Monday, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) organized a protest of the College outside the entrance to Ben West Parking Lot on North Chester Road around noon. The group of about twenty-six, mostly male Catholics, including a high school student, was protesting Department of Religion Professor Gwynn Kessler’s “Queering the Bible” course that will be offered in the fall of 2018. Kessler is currently on leave and did not respond to requests for comment.

Michael Hill, Director of Public Safety, was present at the scene to ensure that the protesters were civil and did not obstruct the sidewalk.

In a written statement to The Daily Gazette on behalf of the College, the Communications Office emphasized Swarthmore’s commitment to intellectual freedom and diversity of thought.

We affirm the rights of our faculty to explore new ideas in their teaching and research, and the rights of our students to learn within and beyond the classroom. Members of our on- and off-campus community have the right to engage in peaceful demonstration and free expression as long as those rights do not interfere with the rights of others to work, to teach, and to learn,” they said.

TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said that the College should immediately cancel the course and avoid offering similar courses.

“We think it’s appalling that a college that purportedly supports inclusion and diversity would target the Catholic religion with a new course called ‘Queering the Bible’,” he said. “It’s not so much a personal offense, but a grave offense against God.”

Registrar Martin Warner affirmed the College’s position on the course, and academic freedom in general.

“I am very proud of our curriculum, and that course and our religion courses in particular. My sense is that they have the right to protest and we can and should listen to their statements,” he said. “But ultimately it’s our faculty that decide [sic] what to teach, and I’m very glad of that.”

The course has drawn significant attention from right-wing news outlets since the College’s Department of Religion announced it would be offering the course. The story was first reported by The College Fix, a student-reported publication that brands itself as, “Your daily dose of right-minded news and commentary.” The story was then picked up by a number of other outlets within the right-wing media sphere, including The Washington Times, Breitbart, and Fox News.

When asked about his beliefs on freedom of speech, Ritchie said, “Defamation of God is not free speech … God is sacred and therefore He should be respected.”

TFP, an arm of The Foundation for a Christian Civilization (FCC), claims to be “the world’s largest anticommunist and antisocialist network of Catholic inspiration,” and has over 120,000 members. The group, inspired by the work of Brazilian Catholic activist Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, was founded in 1973 and has fought against its perceived moral degradation of America.

In its early days, the group had connections to the Reagan administration, and today maintains strong ties with conservative activists and organizations. The group was one of the sponsors of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2014, which drew numerous notable figures in Republican politics, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre.

While most organizations that actively participate in politics are registered as 501(c)(4) nonprofits, TFP is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), meaning the group is fully tax-exempt and donations are tax-deductible.

Though IRS regulations are very restrictive when it comes to political campaigning and lobbying by 501(c)(3) organizations, TFP has signed onto statements opposing housing finance reform legislation, climate change legislation, and State Department authorization legislation, and has organized rallies against same-sex marriage legislation in Maine.

It’s unclear if the protesters will be back, but Ritchie insists the demonstrations are here to stay.

“We’re not going to stop protesting until [the course] is cancelled,” he said.

President Valerie Smith could not be reached for comment, as she was away on college business.

Keton Kakkar

Keton is a junior from Sands Point, New York. Intrigued by theories of interpretation and communication, they have chosen to study computer science and English literature. Their hobbies include bouldering, hiking, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

7 comments

  1. 3
    Ian Garrison '18 says:

    Oh, so anything you (Mr. Ritchie) define as insulting your made-up sky daddy is not free speech?

    Too bad. I’m an Orthodox Reformed Traditional Satanist this week, and part of my deeply-held faith in the Prince of Darkness is that ANY speech that opposes the explicit promotion of homosexual activity, homoerotic media, and many soft loving cuddles and kisses between same-sex partners, is an offense against Satan’s code and therefore an offense against the Dark Angel Xirself. Any homophobic activity, speech against LGBT rights, or other random dickery against LGBT people is a highly sacreligious act against the great Master of Damnation and Xir black-tongu’ed minions. Also, your Bible misgenders the Black Lord, by calling Xir “him”; don’t you foolish godslaves know that most fallen angels are nonbinary or genderless and use either “they” or nontraditional pronouns? Stop waging war on my religion! Satan still loves you, though, Xe loves everybody and gets very sad when Xir children act like dicks to each other. Hail Satan!

    In all seriousness, this protest is ridiculous and, speaking as a student, the school should completely ignore it. If gay Christians want to find something reasonably non-homophobic in a book about an unmarried 30something man and his 13 totally-not-fuckbuddies wandering around the desert with each other in 1st-century Palestine (where a man who wasn’t married by his early ’20s was a big outlier) until one guy got jealous and sold his ex out to the cops, and non-Christians want to attend a course about that, well all those people have a right to teach, attend, and enjoy that course.

    I do hope these folks stick around, though, if only so I can walk past their protest later this week and point out their hypocrisy to them.

    1. 1
      scragsma says:

      Your ignorance is highlighted by your contention that in Jesus’ time and place, “a man who wasn’t married by his early 20s was a big outlier”. In fact, in that culture it was frowned upon for a man to get married before he was about 30.

  2. 0
    Sonja Campbell says:

    Ian Garrison,

    You have your opinion, as does everyone else, and if it makes you feel a bigger man to diminish another’s convictions and traditions simply from a result of disagreement (or even a lack of knowledge of that which you speak against), than I guess at the end of the day, you’re going to have to accept the opinions formed about you because of your conduct. Your arrogance deceives you, however, and I truly hope that you and I will indeed meet at one of these rallies, if only so I have the opportunity to properly educate you on the debt that education owes to the Catholic Church — without whom we would be desperately lacking even the opportunity to attend these institutions, seeing as many were born from the tireless efforts of the Catholic Church. History is a fascinating subject, young man, I encourage you to delve deep into the truths of it.

    As for the article itself, bravo to the brave Catholics affiliated with TFP! It takes incredible courage to stand against the tyrannical clutch of blasphemy. They have truly inspired many to stand firm in their faith, and to never fear the backlash that comes with defending the Truth.

      1. 0
        Sonja Campbell says:

        Jack Phillips, why thank you, yes it is brave. Fornication is a sin, no matter how you present it. Any sex outside of a marriage sanctioned by God is a grave sin. Truth never changes.

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