Free Speech Letters, 10/4/11

A founding letter
As the organizers of SOFT, we would like to respond to some of A.J.’s points.
First, we hope that visitors to our Facebook page will forgive us – we have been quite busy over the last month with our full-time graduate studies and research and teaching responsibilities, and haven’t been updating the page as much as we probably should.
Those who read the entire story [on Flyer News] would have seen a little farther down the page that we have decided to forgo our affiliation with the SSA. It was clear to us after our first meeting with the administration that affiliation would be a roadblock to recognition, and as Nick is quoted in the article, “We want first and foremost for SOFT to exist on campus … We’re flexible … Having this organization exist is more important than our affiliation with SSA.”
We believe that it is disingenuous and distasteful of A.J. to suggest that we are only looking to pick a fight with the administration or that we were prepared for conflict before we started the organization. Indeed, we were so optimistic over the summer that we approached Campus Ministry before our application had been reviewed to ask if a representative would like to serve as a co-adviser. We stand by our statements in Flyer News that our goal is to promote unity and discussion on campus, and A.J.’s suggestion otherwise is purely a speculative conclusion that he has reached before taking the time to speak with us.
In addition, we hosted a preliminary meeting for supporters on Monday night (9/26). There, we updated attendees on our progress and gathered ideas for what kinds of meetings or events the group should hold.
A.J. does make a very good point — not earning recognition from the university does not prevent us from getting together. The administration suggested hosting a speaker or a conversation about secular issues as a concession for rejecting our group. We continue to pursue recognition, however, because we believe that there needs to be a maintained discussion between believers and nonbelievers on campus. No such forum currently exists, and we believe that it would go a long way in promoting understanding between students of different values. In addition, without recognition, we cannot meet on campus or use university channels of communication, which is a significant roadblock.
We rejoice that in 1974, A.J. felt comfortable as an atheist on campus. Unfortunately, we believe that the culture has changed in the last 40 years. All too often, we hear nonbelievers speaking disparagingly about religious students. In addition, religious students sometimes often are uncomfortable with or distrustful of their secular peers. By seeking recognition for our organization, we are looking to bring these students together to understand their differences and see each other in a more humanizing light. Our only agenda is to promote peace and concord at UD.
Nick Haynes and Branden King
Founders, Dayton Society of Freethinkers (SOFT)
University of Dayton
[RE: Debate Forum Right: “Thoughts on the Society of Freethinkers from a former atheist” by A.J. Wagner, 9/27/11]

Recommended reading
Thank you for your very reasoned response to this ongoing debate about recognition of the student organization … our information, and our support of these students has not been given full voice but you very eloquently stated our position as agents of the institution. I hope people read this.
Amy D. Lopez-Matthews
Director of Student Life and Kennedy Union
University of Dayton
[RE: Debate Forum Right: “Thoughts on the Society of Freethinkers from a former atheist” by A.J. Wagner, 9/27/11]

Am I missing something?
So your contention is that giving official recognition of an organization that conflicts with Catholic values implies university endorsement of those principles. But then you completely hand wave the question of whether UD’s recognition of Jewish and Islamic organizations implies an endorsement of Judaism or Islam. You assert that “a line must be drawn with SOFT,” but you don’t specify why that line should be drawn. Maybe if you’d spent less time speculating about the motives of SOFT’s founders, you would have had more space to talk about the underlying issue, assuming you ever intended to do so.
Kevin S.
Dayton, Ohio
[RE: Debate Forum Right: “Thoughts on the Society of Freethinkers from a former atheist” by A.J. Wagner, 9/27/11]

A friendly review
As the editor who corralled Webber’s copy … at The Daily News in Longview, Wash., I must say his writing was lively then, and it’s even better now. How fondly I remember his reviews … especially his lavish praise for “Boxing Helena.” Oy vey. I’m decades older than Webber, but I grew up with Roger Ebert, too. Literally, you might say, since I grew up in Chicago. I read his columns in the Sun Times and he schooled me and my friends in how to judge and appreciate films. In those days, they were worth it. Also, as a college student I once saw him in O’Rourke’s. Pretty exciting.
You convinced me, Jason — I’m getting the book.
Cathy Zimmerman
[RE: “Roger (Ebert) & Me” by Jason Webber, 9/20/11]

The joy of Ebert
Great article! I haven’t started to read his memoir yet, but your review really makes me antsy to get home and get to it! So many people grew up with Ebert being a huge part of their lives; it’s so interesting to see how he impacted people in so many different ways.
Amanda Spejcher
[RE: “Roger (Ebert) & Me” by Jason Webber, 9/20/11]

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