|Kay Smith Riggle|
The time came when I saw the Baptist faith I was reared in treat others "less than" and unjustly. I walked away. My faith in the church suffered but my faith in God never wavered. After 30 years a friend invited me to the Episcopal Church and I found a home there. The Baptismal Covenant resonated deeply with me especially the statement, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" I knew I had found a home.
I had always wondered what had inspired my mother to take the stands she did and why I find myself doing the same. It seemed that the urge to stand up in the face of injustice was something I could not shake. I referred to these urges as "spiritual kicks in the butt." And then I was introduced to the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton through her blog, Telling Secrets. She introduced me to an aspect of Holy Spirit that I knew well but not by name. Her name is Shekinah, and I will let Elizabeth introduce you to her.
And that is why this letter was written to the Valdosta State University President, William McKinney.
Dear President McKinney,
For many years I have taken a great deal of pride in living in a community with a university. Valdosta State University offers our community a variety of educational opportunities, differing opinions and staff who are engaged in their community. This is a huge asset to our community and surrounding areas.
I must say that I was stunned to see an announcement that Dr. Ben Carson would be coming to Valdosta State University to speak to the School of Business. Ben Carson, as I am sure you know, has formed a PAC and selected a 2016 Campaign Chairperson "should he decide to run for President of the United States." One of the reasons I was so stunned is that I am a former state employee. I remember quite clearly the training that state employees had prior to every election. We were told that while on the job we could not promote a specific candidate, we could use no state monies nor could any state facility be used to support or promote a specific candidate. Those of us who traveled were advised to not put bumper stickers on our personal cars if the car was used in our official duties. We were advised that even the appearance of violating these policies could put our jobs in jeopardy. We were told that we could advocate for issues and educate politicians but supporting a candidate as part of our job or on a state time was not allowed and we could lose our jobs as a result.
I don’t understand how VSU can bring Ben Carson in in view of state policies. Have the policies changed? Is the university system different? Even if there have been changes or policies differ, supporting a candidate or party as a state university is not a wise decision.” As the old saying goes, if you haven’t "backed the right horse" you could stand to lose for the university and for the community.
The second issue that I find troubling is Ben Carson’s views on homosexuality. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. John Hopkins University (the university that employed him for more than 30 years) had invited him to speak at the 2013 graduation. In reaction to Ben Carson’s statements regarding homosexuality, Dr. Paul Rothman, the dean of medical faculty at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement that Carson's words were offensive but emphasized the school's belief in free speech as well. Dr Rothman said, "We recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution." Carson stepped down as speaker. Emory University also withdrew an invitation for him to speak.
The mission statement of VSU proclaims that social justice is promoted. Also, VSU also has a Safe Space program that promotes a safe, secure environment so that a person of the LGBTQ community never feels harassed or unwanted at VSU. I cannot imagine that the VSU LGBTQ community feels the welcome that the words and programs of VSU seem to imply. I can tell you that -- as a member of the LGBTQ community -- I feel a little less safe in our community with a person who espouses extreme homophobic views having the red carpet rolled out for him by the local university.
As Dr. Rothman of John Hopkins so wisely stated, "It is clear that the fundamental of freedom of speech has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect." As an individual, I most definitely support freedom of speech, but that does not free a person from the consequences of that speech. I would suggest that you follow the example of the two highly respected universities and withdraw your invitation to Ben Carson to speak at VSU.
Kay Smith Riggle
Kay Smith Riggle is the current convener of Integrity Georgia. She and her wife Sarah Smith Riggle are long-time residents of Valdosta, GA.