Ahlin: Keying up the Legislature
"Because of the inflammatory rhetoric, UND was blindsided and put on the defensive," writes InForum columnist Jane Ahlin. "Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski had a highly-publicized knee-jerk reaction, which he later retracted. Most importantly, Grand Forks Republican state legislators rushed into the fray, all but promising to rewrite laws to mollify the Catholic Conference."
After seeing the letter from the North Dakota Catholic Conference of Bishops , do you suppose North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani phoned University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost to say, “Welcome to my world”?
No question the legislative ultra-right, anti-university playbook is revving up again, beginning with that letter. North Dakotans who naively believed the NDSU sex-ed flap of the last legislative session was a one-off should pay attention. The integrity of North Dakota’s university system depends on it.
Legislative overreach was not beaten back by the higher ed system in the last session, which — as North Dakotans were warned — was an open invitation to more of it. The price for NDSU was academic freedom and, most likely, Bresciani’s job, because he stood with academic freedom. The price to be extracted from UND is equality, equal rights and equal treatment for all students, faculty and staff. Gee, Armacost, don’t get too comfortable.
So how might legislative overreach in the next session be connected to the letter?
The letter in question was written by the director/paid lobbyist for the Catholic Conference of Bishops (the political arm of the Catholic Church) on the bishops’ behalf and sent to Catholic parents.
Although the letter purported to “alert” parents, it was written like an alarm. Actually, think five-alarm fire. The letter put forth scary scenarios that had nothing to do with reality, including heebie-jeebies about student housing and assertions the university would not differentiate between unintentional misgendering remarks and harassing and bullying.
Certainly, there was no mention in the letter that Armacost has affirmed the importance of religious rights and LGBTQ+ rights and is committed to both. Note too that UND previously had assured church hierarchy the policy was not final and additional input was being sought because of their concerns.
No matter. They either lacked faith that UND’s assurances were made in good faith or didn’t think it possible to write a policy in which LGBTQ+ rights and Catholic rights can coexist. The incendiary letter made clear they weren’t looking for reasons to respect UND’s commitment to inclusion and legal rights for all students, or even to wait for a finished policy before complaining. The Catholic Conference was looking to blow the whole thing up. And they did.
Because of the inflammatory rhetoric, UND was blindsided and put on the defensive. Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski had a highly-publicized knee-jerk reaction , which he later retracted . Most importantly, Grand Forks Republican state legislators rushed into the fray, all but promising to rewrite laws to mollify the Catholic Conference.
Bingo: Consider the legislature keyed up to interfere and overreach.
In a Grand Forks Herald article by Adam Kurtz, UND Student Body President Kealan Reedy affirmed need for an inclusion policy and referred to students being “maliciously targeted” because of gender identity. Let’s hope most of us believe that’s terribly wrong.
What’s much worse, however, is if a politicized religious organization succeeds in entitling some of us to a wee bit more equality than others.
Jane Ahlin lives in Fargo and is a frequent contributor to The Forum's opinion pages. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.