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Newark, N.J.�Seton Hall University School of Law’s brush with the Newark Archdiocese last month points up a fact of life at law schools affiliated with Catholic universities: Academic freedom is to be lauded; not so public officials who support what the Catholic Church deems anathema. Law professors at Seton Hall are used to the dichotomy. They say the university doesn’t hamper their teaching or their writing, and that their own views on touchy subjects such as abortion rights are not in the least bit scrutinized. But law students had a harder time with the university’s denunciation of the award of the Sandra Day O’Connor Medal of Honor to Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who four years ago wrote an opinion voiding a law against partial-birth abortions. Seton Hall called the “conferral of awards to people who publicly espouse views contrary to the university’s fundamental Catholic identity” a “serious lapse.” Newark Archbishop John Myers promised to prevent a recurrence and launched an inquiry into the incident. Five of the seven members of the law student governing body’s executive board recently answered with a resolution calling the award “appropriate” because Barry’s “judicial opinions balance compassion and complexity,” and her “achievements in the face of gender stereotypes serve as an inspiration to women in the legal profession.” It noted that while the student body embraces the law school’s pride in its Catholic background, the school “has a parallel objective of educating students on the law and the pursuit of justice.” The resolution resolved to “continue to seek speakers with points of view across the spectrum of ideas and beliefs.” This isn’t the first time the award has sparked controversy. In 1998, when it was given to Governor Christine Whitman, the ceremony was moved off campus due to her support for abortion rights. The April ceremony for Barry took place at the law school as protesters picketed outside. Five days later, in the archdiocese’s Catholic Advocate, Myers criticized Barry and O’Connor for having “demonstrated a lack of support for pro-life issues.” He called the award “profoundly offensive and contrary to the Catholic mission and identity” of the law school, university and archdiocese. Myers, as archbishop, is president of Seton Hall’s board of regents and board of trustees, and through them will press for any changes, said a spokesman.

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