Last week the head administrator at the Friends School of Baltimore, a small Quaker private school, figured he’d share a Washington Post profile about one of their alumni, conservative thinker Ryan T. Anderson, on the school’s Facebook page. Matthew Micciche introduced the piece as a “fine example of how this school promotes independent thinking and a spirit of respect for all viewpoints.” The only problem, unbeknownst to Micciche, was that because the focus of the Post piece was on Anderson’s “fresh voice” in opposition to same-sex marriage, this particular example of independent thinking would draw something other than a “spirit of respect” from the school’s mostly liberal community. Realizing this, Micciche subsequently deleted the post, and then penned a mea culpa apologizing to anyone who had presumed that he or the school were “validating” any viewpoint against marriage equality. From that (now-deleted) explanation:
[We] affirm in our Philosophy that “Friends School seeks to live the conviction that there is that of God in each person. At Friends, we work together to build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all people; we value diversity and cherish differences.” With this ideal in mind, the celebration of divergent viewpoints is not, and cannot be, without boundaries. When the views that a person espouses call into question the full humanity or the full access to human rights of others, based on their very identity, the active harm that the espousal of these views causes outweighs the opposing value of freedom of expression.
Responding to the controversy, Anderson seemed understandably whiplashed. He also reflected on how much he valued his 12 years at Friends School, and how important it was to have his conservative ideology challenged there by the faculty, which made their reaction to his current views all the more troubling:
Friends School could have used this occasion as a teaching moment for what real diversity, tolerance, and open-mindedness look like. It could have been an occasion to demonstrate to students and alumni how to have civil and respectful disagreements within the bonds of friendship over important public policy issues. It’s a pity the school did the exact opposite. If you wonder why our national politics can be so divisive and rancorous, look no further than our schools—they aren’t preparing students to be civil and tolerant in the real world.
Meanwhile, the Week’s Damon Linker, a same-sex-marriage supporter and regular opponent of Anderson’s, is worried about what this seemingly minor controversy says about “the cultural endgame of the gay-rights movement”:
The reaction of those who raised objections to the link as well as the decision of the head of school to remove the link and offer an abject apology for posting it — both of these are depressing signs that liberal public opinion is evolving in the direction of theological certainties and illiberal forms of intolerance. These so-called liberals want Anderson to be shunned. Expelled from the community. Excommunicated from civilized life. Ostracized from the ranks of the decent.
And Linker is additionally disturbed by how “the people who would drive [Anderson] into moral exile seem to be afflicted with an almost comically high sensitivity to offense”:
A school posting a link to a fair-minded profile of an alum on the other side of an issue, with no endorsement of it, caused people “pain” and “anguish”? You’ve got to be kidding. Like the students on college campuses who prefer to run and hide from the “trauma” of being exposed to arguments they don’t like, those who claim to be wounded by a link to a story about someone who disagrees with them sound an awful lot like crybabies. By all means, fight for your rights. Work to win the public argument. But then accept that the world is a big place, not everyone agrees with you, and those on the other side have as much right to make their (losing) case as you do.
He adds, “that’s what a genuinely liberal society is supposed to be all about.”