Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, received a highly publicized call from President Obama after the conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" (among other things) for backing the president's health-care proposal that would require employers to cover contraception. She also received a strong statement of support on Friday -- for her right to speak out without being slurred -- from the president of Georgetown.
The statement from John J. DeGioia, Georgetown's president, didn't endorse Fluke's point of view on the health law. DeGioia noted that many -- including, significantly for a Roman Catholic university like Georgetown, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- have offered differing perspectives. But he said that what deserved attention was the way Fluke spoke out, and the way others attacked her.
"She was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction. She provided a model of civil discourse. This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression," the Georgetown president wrote. "And yet, some of those who disagreed with her position – including Rush Limbaugh and commentators throughout the blogosphere and in various other media channels -- responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student."
DeGioia quoted Saint Augustine, who said: "Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed." Added DeGioia: "If we, instead, allow coarseness, anger – even hatred – to stand for civil discourse in America, we violate the sacred trust that has been handed down through the generations beginning with our Founders. The values that hold us together as a people require nothing less than eternal vigilance. This is our moment to stand for the values of civility in our engagement with one another."
Limbaugh apologized for his statement on Saturday.
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