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Gingrich Speech at CU Opposed

Event Would Violate School Policy, Some Students Contend

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 22, 2005; Page B02

Newt Gingrich's scheduled speech at Catholic University next week is prompting criticism from students who contend that the appearance would violate the school's policy barring speakers who have espoused positions contrary to Vatican teachings.

Frank Lankey Jr., 20, political director for the College Democrats, said that Gingrich's support for the death penalty and his extramarital affair in the 1990s contradict church teachings and should prohibit him from appearing.

Students contend Newt Gingrich's death-penalty support and his affair contradict Vatican teachings. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

Last fall, organizers of an Italian film festival considered inviting actor-director Stanley Tucci to their event, but Catholic University officials objected because of his support for abortion rights organizations. In Gingrich's case, the college's student Republican organization invited the former House speaker to speak on politics and world affairs.

"If the university has a policy for what speakers need to represent in regards to church doctrine, they shouldn't pick and choose which teachings apply to which speakers," Lankey said.

"We're not trying to lambaste or protest Mr. Gingrich as a politician or an individual," he said. "We're trying to show that the speaker policy is very poorly applied."

Victor Nakas, the university's spokesman, denied that Gingrich's appearance violates the speaker policy, though he declined to explain the substance of the regulations. "I don't want to give this more attention than it deserves," he said, adding that similar issues have been debated in the past. "We have explained this -- we're rehashing old ground."

Last fall, after Tucci was barred from the school, Nakas explained that the university always has the prerogative to bar speakers whose views differ from those of the church. A new set of directives issued in July by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibited Catholic institutions from giving "awards, honors and platforms" to those who oppose the church's tenets, including its position on abortion.

In remarks yesterday, Nakas said that Gingrich's support for the death penalty does not put him in conflict with church teachings because "there's no absolute prohibition. There's nothing that says that capital punishment is necessarily forbidden."

As for Gingrich's personal relationships -- he divorced in 1999 after having an affair with a congressional aide -- Nakas said: "He's not a public advocate for adultery. That's the distinction."

Catholic University, which was chartered by the Vatican in 1887, has more than 5,000 students and a governing board dominated by Catholic bishops. The campus was the scene of protests in 2003 when the contractor that operates the university's bookstore canceled an appearance by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) after students expressed objections to her advocacy of abortion rights.

Last year, the university prohibited students from opening a local chapter of the NAACP because of the organization's support for abortion rights. After student protests, the university's president, the Rev. David M. O'Connell, reversed the decision.

The university's action regarding Tucci prompted objections on campus and inspired a group of students to form the "Free Speech" movement. Danny Junod, a university senior and an organizer of the group, said it has not taken a position on Gingrich's appearance. He said, however, that the organization opposes the university's speaker policy.

"Although Newt Gingrich does contradict that policy, he has the right to come here because there are people who are fans and who are Republican and who want to hear what he has to say," he said. "My hope is that different speakers from different political parties will come. Our campus should be open to these things."

The students' Democratic organization is planning to rally in opposition when Gingrich appears at the university's Michigan Avenue NE campus Tuesday night at 8. Nakas said the university has no objection to the planned protest. "That's their right," he said. "We welcome vigorous debate."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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