- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

A few weeks ago, the world watched in stunned disbelief as Afghanistan´s extremist Taleban government ordered and then carried out the destruction of two ancient Buddhist statues that stood at the crossroads of the Silk Road. To all civilized cultures, it seemed an act of unfathomable callousness, wiping away in an instant irreplaceable artifacts that had stood for more than 1700 years.

To Buddhists, the act had an added dimension of cruelty. It represented not just the destruction of objects, but the desecration of images held sacred by that religion. Appropriately, the media voiced its outrage at an act of government so profoundly insensitive to the religious beliefs of others that it took on the character of a violent personal assault.

One can imagine my confusion, then, when a few weeks later a Palm Beach Post staff writer praised Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for funding an event that desecrates the image of Jesus Christ. FAU sponsored a play called “Corpus Christi,” in which Jesus is depicted as a homosexual who surrounds himself with a cast of lecherous and profane disciples.

As with the destruction of the great stone statues, the public sponsorship of this enormously disrespectful act should appall any thinking person who honors the religious beliefs of others. For Christians, it is a personal attack, a defilement of the image of the Son of God.

How could administrators at FAU have shown such poor judgment in spending taxpayers´ money for this purpose? Reflexively, they cite “academic freedom” as the rationale. Of course, “academic freedom” is the final refuge in which professors hide when confronted with the absurdity and arrogance of their decisions. It is a concept entirely unmoored by standards, in which any activity can be justified that exceeds our “comfort level” and “challenges” our preconceptions. Stripped of its shock value, however, “Corpus Christi” is simply a sophomoric treatment of Christ´s crucifixion. It is too shallow to “challenge” anything but our comfort level in the leadership of FAU.

Before cloaking the enterprise in “academic freedom,” perhaps these leaders should have considered why the survival of “Corpus Christi” was dependent on the University.

First, no private organization in Florida was willing to pay to have the play presented to an audience. Why? Because the play is so ferociously unappealing that it would never turn a profit. Surely, in spending taxpayers´ money, universities have some duty to reach the broadest possible audience.

Second, no newspaper would print substantial portions of the play´s script because the language is so foul. If the editorial staff of the Palm Beach Post think “Corpus Christi” shows great literary merit, why don´t they publish the text for their readers? They know that if they did, the newspaper would lose readership, and therefore revenue. Instead, the newspaper encourages the university to produce the play with your money.

If this bit of hypocrisy were not enough, the Palm Beach Post then rails against the Florida Legislature for threatening to withhold money from FAU in response to “Corpus Christi.” Apparently, the newspaper hasn´t heard of “legislative prerogative,” the legislature´s ability to take almost any action without fear of limitation or consequence. In that sense, it´s a lot like academic freedom. Unlike the university, however, Florida´s legislature is acting to protect the public interest.


CHARLIE CRIST

Commissioner

Florida Department of Education

Washington

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