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Why is the outrage of Christians so easily dismissed?

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Mel Damewood III For The Register-Guard

In its May 21 editorial, The Register-Guard summarizes the flap between local Christians and University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer over the offensive cartoons and articles in the March issue of The Insurgent down into one generalized conclusion: Angry Christians, (just like Muslims) want `complete suppression of the offending speech.'

As a practicing Catholic, I am not interested in suppressing free or offensive speech. Christians want the same consideration and response from our community as if The Insurgent were publishing offensive material about Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez or Matthew Shepard.

But throughout this affair, Christians have gotten nothing but shrugs of shoulders from our community and the message that freedom of speech, no matter how irresponsible or offensive, is more important to protect than honoring diversity and human (religious) rights, especially when it comes to the Christian.

The front cover art and other drawings of Jesus Christ in The Insurgent are not just "reprehensible." They are obscene and pornographic. If The Register-Guard believes that Christians are trying to suppress free speech when they complain about such vile artwork, then I challenge the editors, and local television stations, to reproduce these images with no alterations. This would allow community members, whatever their religious beliefs, to judge whether or not these sexually explicit pictures should be covered by the freedom of speech in the "marketplace of ideas" that the newspaper claims Frohnmayer is protecting.

The reality is that The Register-Guard would never print them. If local television stations broadcast these pictures unaltered, they would be slapped with a fine by the Federal Communications Commission. Is the FCC also opposed to free speech?

The Diversity and Human Rights Consortium was established in 2002 by 10 local public agencies signing a Memorandum of Understanding whose purpose is `to establish a common agenda to work together in a consistent manner to create an environment that supports equity, human rights, and diversity within each member agency, the DHRC, and our community.' The UO is a member of the DHRC. When Christian UO students see their savior vilified and ridiculed, how does that fit into the university's goal of supporting "equity, human rights and diversity"?

The UO, by default, is associated with its student groups and should not just turn a blind eye to the community when these groups act out in hateful ways. How can the UO deny having any control over a group called The UO Student Insurgent, which has a mailing address and office in the heart of campus?

The DHRC must act in unity to encourage the UO to hold associated groups and entities accountable in matters of diversity and human rights. Many of the consortium's participating agencies have implemented programs for their employees which require training in cultural competency. These agencies hold their employees responsible for actions both personal and public in these matters. By virtue of the goals and objectives of the 2002 memorandum of understanding, this should also include groups and entities with which participating agencies are affiliated.

Here's a modest proposal: As employees of participating DHRC agencies are required to take cultural competency training, the executive officers of associated groups who are funded by or through these DHRC agencies should also be required to receive training in cultural competency. Education is an excellent way to show offenders how obscene drawings demean groups in our community.

The chief executive officers of the DHRC agencies gather on June 2 to discuss progress of the consortium. The CEOs plan to address this issue during that meeting. If the CEOs do not seriously address this issue, then the DHRC risks losing credibility with a large constituency that the participating agencies serve.

From where I stand, the actions of The Insurgent, the Associated Students of the University of Oregon and President Frohnmayer have served to undermine the goals and objectives of one of the bright points of our community, the Diversity and Human Rights Consortium.

It will be very interesting to see how the DHRC, including the university as a member, will handle this matter. I'm hoping that pornographic drawings which demean the faith of thousands of students and residents will be seen as a strike against cultural competency in our community, and not as an expression of legitimate, constitutionally protected free speech.

Mel Damewood III of Eugene is a founding member of Northwest Catholic Radio, which provides Catholic radio programming to the local area.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 28, 2006
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