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Seton Hall Law School’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 like abortion rights are not in the least bit scrutinized. But law students had a harder time with the university’s denouncement of awarding the Sandra Day O’Connor Medal of Honor to Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who four years ago wrote an opinion voiding a law against late-term 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. Last Monday, five of the seven members of the law student governing body’s executive board 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.” As of the end of last week, the resolution had generated “no general negative feedback,” says board president Jonathan Samon. This is not the first time the O’Connor award has sparked controversy. In 1998, when it was given to Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the ceremony was moved off campus because of her support for abortion rights. But it is the first time that the award’s conveyance has sparked an ecclesiastical rebuke. The April 16 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, the university and the archdiocese. “I am proceeding in a way to clarify the situation and to see that it does not occur again,” wrote Myers. He also said he was “reviewing all aspects of the matter and determining the appropriate action to be taken.” Myers, as archbishop, is president of Seton Hall’s board of regents and board of trustees and through them will press for any changes, says James Goodness, an archdiocesan spokesman. A CONTENT-NEUTRAL AWARD The intensity of the university’s response was made all the more stark by the fact that the award — bestowed annually since 1992 by the Women’s Law Forum, the Seton Hall Law Review and the Seton Hall Legislative Bureau — honors women “dedicated to promoting justice.” It does not recognize support for abortion rights or any other social or political cause, though past pro-abortion-rights recipients include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Barbara Jordan. O’Connor, the award’s namesake, is part of the bloc of five justices who have voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. Moreover, the diocese and university are opposed to Barry as an honoree not over any articulated personal views on abortion but over a ruling that applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, 220 F.3d 127 (2000), Barry led a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in affirming a trial court ruling that struck down New Jersey’s law banning late-term abortions. Judges Samuel Alito and Leonard Garth joined in the ruling, which came a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck a comparable Nebraska law on similar grounds, Carhart v. Stenberg, 530 U.S. 914 (2000). The university’s intolerance on this issue sets it apart from some other Catholic law schools that seem more comfortable giving awards to people with divergent beliefs. Rev. Edward Udovic, vice president of administration at DePaul University in Chicago, says that although the university signs off on honorary degrees from its law school, a litmus test would disqualify almost anyone. For example, screening for any divergence from church teaching would raise questions about honorary degrees for death penalty supporters such as President George W. Bush, he notes. The situation would differ if someone were honored specifically for views contrary to church teaching, Udovic says. Georgetown University spokeswoman Julie Bataille says its trustees must approve honorary law school degrees but lesser awards are left to individual schools within the university. Georgetown Law Center did not respond to an inquiry on the issue but two weekends ago, it presented an alumni award to N.J. Supreme Court Justice James Zazzali. He has not decided any abortion rights cases in his four years on the Court, but in 2001 he joined the majority in J.B. v. M.B., 170 N.J. 9. The case, involving a divorced couple’s dispute over fertilized embryos, recognized the wife’s right not to procreate. Closer to home, Fordham University School of Law prides itself on the Jesuit tradition of intellectual freedom, eschewing any viewpoint-based policy on speakers and honorees, says communications director Robert Pfeifer. He notes that the law school has honored Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who have ruled on opposite sides of the abortion issue. Boston College Law School spokesman Nate Kenyon says the school has no written policy but “tries to be sensitive to these issues,” given its Catholic roots. “It has not been a significant problem and I hope it won’t be.” That might change this spring. Walter Dellinger, the 2004 commencement speaker, drafted the executive order for President Bill Clinton that lifted a ban on aid to overseas health providers that discussed abortion. Bush reinstated the so-called “gag rule.” GOVERNOR REFUSED HOLY COMMUNION However Seton Hall resolves the issue, it is one that is likely to resurface. Last Friday, the incoming leader of the Camden Archdiocese, Most Rev. Joseph Galante, announced that Gov. McGreevey would not be allowed to receive communion based on his support for abortion rights and stem cell research. What, if any, action Seton Hall will take is not clear. Law school dean Patrick Hobbs declines comment, citing the pending investigation. Seton Hall ethics professor Michael Ambrosio, a Catholic who opposes abortion, says he does not expect to see a policy that screens out divergent opinions or bars those who espouse them from campus. “Every educational institution worthy of its name should always be open to all manner of opinion and ready to engage in a serious dialogue with students, faculty and those outside the university on important questions that face the society,” he says.

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