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New CUA president believes Pledge of Allegiance may violate Vatican II’s teaching on religious freedom
John H. Garvey
John H. Garvey

.- Incoming Catholic University of America (CUA) president John H. Garvey has defended the freedom of Catholic adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. However, he also holds that the Pledge of Allegiance could be viewed as unconstitutional and may violate Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

Garvey, presently the Dean of Boston College Law School, made his comments on the Pledge in the Spring / Summer 2007 issue of BC Law Magazine. The issue featured a symposium on the late Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., a Georgetown University law professor and Democratic U.S. Congressman.

In his essay on Drinan, Dean Garvey praised the priest’s dedication to religious freedom. Drinan suggested that asking schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, with its reference to “one nation under God,” might be inconsistent with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The priest also thought requiring recitation of the Pledge could violate the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, which according to Drinan “forbade any discrimination against those who are not persons of faith.”

Garvey said that his own work in law “has led me to share Fr. Drinan’s view in that regard.”

The phrase “under God” was officially added to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s after a campaign initiated by the Knights of Columbus, the country’s largest Catholic fraternal charitable organization. The Knights have supported CUA for more than a century and have donated millions of dollars to the school.

Defender of Catholic religious freedom

While Garvey’s opinion of the Pledge breaks from a view popular among U.S. Catholics, he has reportedly faced hurdles because of his faith. The Eagleionline, a student-run paper at Boston College Law School, says that Garvey’s nomination for the deanship of Notre Dame Law School was vetoed by “a vocal minority of faculty” because he was “too Catholic, too conservative, and too elitist.”

Soon after becoming dean at Boston College, he criticized the faculty for opposing the hiring of two faculty candidates he favored, saying they “will not hire a conservative or a Catholic.”

The incoming CUA president has also defended Catholic religious freedom against the growing burden of pro-homosexual laws.

When Catholic Charities of Massachusetts was forced to stop adoption services because state law required children to be placed with homosexual couples, Garvey published a March 14, 2006 essay in the Boston Globe objecting to the law.

“It seems surprising that the state would want to put the Catholic Church out of the adoption business,” Garvey wrote. “Corporal works of mercy are no less important to the life of the Church than its sacramental ministry.”

“Forbidding the Church to perform them is a serious blow to its religious liberty. Why would the government do that?” he continued, adding “Is our commitment to equality so strong that we are willing to put Catholic Charities out of business because it won't promote an agenda that it views as morally wrong? …extremism in the defense of equality can be a vice.”

As dean, Garvey also defended Boston College law professor Scott Fitzgibbon when he spoke out in favor of Maine’s Question 1, which restored the state’s definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

In a 2009 campaign ad, Fitzgibbon predicted a “flood of lawsuits” if state recognition of same-sex “marriage” were not repealed. This drew criticism from homosexual activists as well as their allies among college faculty and staff.

Believer in the power of academic freedom

In response, Garvey issued a statement noting that some had been angered by the professor’s position and reiterating that Boston College does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. He explained that the professor is “free to express his views,” noting that other professors have supported a view contrary to Fitzgibbons and are free to express that view publicly.

He did not refer to Catholic teaching or the Catholic identity of the school, but rather invoked “intellectual freedom,” an oft-mentioned ideal of his.

In a 2002 letter, Garvey tried to allay concern that Boston College’s Catholic identity will require “a certain orthodoxy,” claiming that “no school that regulates ideas can justly call itself a university.”

Garvey also expressed faith that free argument would resolve the questions surrounding the Terri Schiavo case in a 2005 dean’s column in BC Law Magazine. He said he was unsure what to think of the case, writing “as in abortion cases, the courts seem more eager to end life than the elected branches.” However, he also noted the argument that medical decision-making should be private.

He “heartily” endorsed John Stuart Mill’s argument about liberty of thought and discussion as a way forward.

In that same piece, he also described himself as someone “dead set against abortion.”

Commencement controversies

As dean, Garvey was criticized by the Cardinal Newman Society in 2007 when Boston College’s law school gave an honorary degree to Rep. Edward J. Markey, a pro-abortion Democrat from Massachusetts. The U.S. Catholic bishops have said Catholic institutions should not honor “those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

In 2008 others criticized the college for inviting as commencement speaker then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Critics felt he was a symbol for torture practices like waterboarding.

Garvey debated whether to avoid such controversies in his column in the Spring / Summer 2008 edition of BC Law Magazine. Noting the disputes both over Mukasey and over pro-abortion speakers at Catholic schools, he said it was “a high price to pay” to stop inviting prominent people “because their actions are bound to upset one faction or another.”

Rather, he announced, Boston College had decided no longer to give medals or degrees at graduation “to make it easier to invite people of the stature of the Attorney General without having an annual disagreement to mar the day.”

Garvey succeeds Fr. David M. O’Connell as CUA president.


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