From Publishers Lunch:
Fans of Anne Lamott in Omaha have rallied to secure an appearance by the author in the wake of an abrupt cancellation by local Jesuit institution Creighton University. The school had invited Lamott long ago for a paid appearance on September 19 as part of their annual Women and Health Lecture Series, and an overflow crowd of 1,200 had already signed up to attend.
But a group of local Catholics “deluged” the Omaha Archdiocese with phone calls and e-mails earlier this month in protest over Lamott’s personal views on assisted suicide and abortion. Creighton officials had already asked Lamott if she would “stay on topic” with the theme of lecture series, according to her lecture agent Steven Barclay, and she had reassured them that she “didn’t need to be a spokesperson on [the controversial] topics.” (Lamott indicated the same directly to the Omaha World-Record.)
Nonetheless, Creighton decided to cancel the engagement–after first asking if Lamott would back out, but Barclay indicated that she never cancels a booking. Lamott also declined to keep the lecture fee that was owed to her. Creighton spokesperson Kathryn Clark told the local newspaper, “We have decided that the key points she makes are in opposition to Catholic teaching. That makes her an inappropriate choice.”
Despite whatever local pressure was brought to bear on Creighton, there was equal if not greater support for having Lamott appear. As Barclay notes, “She’s a real galvanizing force in the progressive Christian movement. Those people were outraged and I think rightfully so.” Rev. Nancy Brink of Omaha’s North Side Christian Church quickly organized a coalition of six local churches, which has secured a larger 2,000-seat venue where Lamott will now speak on the same day.
The article that Michael Cader references doesn’t appear to be on the Omaha World-Record‘s site. So I did some digging on my own.
I was particularly baffled by this quote from Kathryn Clark: “We have decided that the key points she makes are in opposition to Catholic teaching. That makes her an inappropriate choice.”
Curious about this, I contacted Creighton directly. I was unable to get Kathryn Clark on the phone, but I was able to cajole the kind student who answered into giving me Creighton Public Relations Director Deb Daley’s cell phone.
I asked Daley what specific key points were in opposition to Catholic teaching. Instead of directly answering the question, Daley insisted, “We at Creighton University actually recognize that many different points of view exist.”
Well, then why not a different point of view like Lamott’s?
“We were concerned that by sponsoring a lecture, people would misconstrue that we were endorsing her.”
Apparently, Creighton got cold feet because Lamott had written about helping a friend commit suicide, people would somehow believe that Creighton was directly supporting this idea. I asked why these circumstances mattered so much in relation to Lamott. Daley said that it was the “sponsored lecture” categorization of the event that Creighton had difficulty with.
But what made a sponsored lecture any different from anything else delivered in front of an audience — like, say, a professor talking about a particular topic or point of view in front of his students?
“We provide a forum for opposite points of view,” said Daley again, clinging to this sentence like a piece of driftwood in river rapids.
I explained to Daley that a “forum for opposite points of view” simply wasn’t the case at all if she was preventing Lamott from speaking. I asked, if Lamott’s alleged pro-suicide position was indeed the issue, why Creighton didn’t just have someone appear who was against suicide appear alongside Lamott. That way, all points of view would be preserved and there would be no confusion over which particular point of view Creighton allegedly “supported.”
But before I could get an answer to this question or ask Daley why she had banned Lamott’s appearance when Lamott had agreed to stick to talking points, Daley then told me that everything that needed to be said was in the papers and ended the call.
So here we have an alleged “university” championing “all points of view,” but who is terribly afraid of a speaker associated with a point of view, even though the speaker had promised not to dwell on the point of view in question.
Sounds like censorship to me.
© 2007, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.