Monday, November 28, 2005

Spark Article on the Rehnquist Controversy

Yet another article that wasn't by me. I'm posting this here, however, because it provides context to some of my other articles, namely:
* William Rehnquist's Racist Record Revealed
* Chief Justice Rehnquist's questionable Past
* Chief Justice Poor Choice for Speaker
* Unpublished Grand Rapids Press editorial

Calvin College’s 2001 Commencement ceremony featured the largest graduating class in the college’s 125-year history. Nearly 920 graduates and 3,400 parents, family members and friends packed the Fieldhouse on May 19 to take part in the celebration.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, perhaps the most well-known person ever to speak at a Calvin graduation, addressed the graduates challenging them to look at life with the right perspective.

“Life is like "a great shopping mall. Instead of clothes, CDs or electronic goods, the items for sale are worldly success, appreciation of music, knowledge of history, a scratch golf game, a close relationship with your daughter, a fulfilling commitment to your church, but you can’t purchase these things with money. You purchase them with time,” said Rehnquist.

The Chief Justice didn’t comment on any larger issues of the day nor did he mention the controversy that had surrounded his invitation to speak at Calvin’s commencement.

Several weeks before commencement, the April 27 edition of the student newspaper Chimes sparked the debate in an article headlined “William Rehnquist’s racist record revealed.”

The article highlighted Rehnquist’s affirmation of Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark 1896 Supreme Court case which gave consent to legalized segregation in the southern United States, as a young law clerk in the 1950s. The article also accused Rehnquist of using legal methods to dissuade black voters as director of the Republican Party’s “Operation Eagle Eye” program in Arizona in the late 1950s.

The article prompted much discussion on campus about the selection of the commencement speaker and drew local media attention, some of which focused on the issue of freedom of speech.

“The issue was never about freedom of speech,” said Randal Jelks, Calvin history professor. “I was never against him speaking here. I just think that a different venue would have been better.

Rehnquist’s record on race was not the only reason for the controversy, however. The fact that the Chief Justice has no ties to the college was another issue.

Traditionally, Calvin has invited faculty, alumni or former faculty members to give the commencement address.

The controversy at Calvin resulted in a forum where colleagues were able to voice their opinions and dialogue among each other and a letter signed by 300 Calvin faculty, staff and alumni stating their opposition to the Chief Justice’s appearance was run as an ad in the Grand Rapids Press on commencement day.

"The positive aspect to this 'debate' story is that Calvin deeply cares about our response to the big questions of our day and it neither squelches disagreement nor has these debates outside a faith-informed context," said Calvin President Gaylen Byker. "The community forum that we had on campus was a wonderful testament to the integration of faith and learning that we talk about so much on this campus."

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