This was written in regards to the Rehnquist controversy. For more information see this post here.
In a guest editorial of the Grand Rapids Press, May 19, 2001, a fellow by the name of David Kamm slammed those of us at Calvin who were protesting the Chief Justice. It was such a bad editorial that for a couple days all I could think of was how many ways this guy didn't know what he was talking about. Mike Buma in particular was mentioned by name, so I told him he should probably make a reply. Mike called up the GR Press and asked for space to reply, and they said he could.
Buma wrote the bulk of this (as anyone who recognizes his distinctive style should be able to quickly tell). I was breathing down his neck the whole time and bugging him to make sure to include this or that point so Mike ended up submitting it with both of our names on it.
For whatever reason, the Press never ran it. It could have been too inflammatory, it could have been too formal, it could have been too insular, or it could just have been a communication error. We never did get a reason.
It was somewhat unfortunate, because I think this could have cleared up a lot of misconceptions readers of the press apparently had. The Letters to the Editor column was filled up for the next couple weeks with opinions similar to Kamm's. Eventually, however, the Press did run an article by Professor Jelks which had most of the same points as our piece. So the message did eventually get out there.
I am writing in regards to “Calvin College Liberals Show Intolerance by Protesting Chief Justice’s Invitation” (05/19/01) by David Kamm. I was greatly troubled by Kamm’s blithe misunderstanding of the Rehnquist issue, and by his subsequent misrepresentation of the so-called “Calvin liberals” he attempts to malign.
Kramm’s tendency towards a partisan understanding is regrettable. He makes the unsubstantiated assumption that were Angela Davis giving the commencement address rather than the chief justice, “these objecting students and faculty would probably fall all over themselves.” First of all, it should be noted that Calvin would never entertain the notion of hosting a speaker with connections to black radicalism. Secondly, Kamm’s reasoning seems to be that ‘liberals’ at Calvin align automatically with any ill-considered ‘liberal’ cause. Aside from slighting the diverse array of opinions represented by the dissenting members of the Calvin community, Kamm has reduced the issue into an uncomplicated polarity. The charges of racial insensitivity made against Rehnquist go beyond the traditional left/right debate (unless of course conservatives want to concede that racial equality is a liberal issue).
Also in regards to his reductionist partisan viewpoint, Kamm attempts to cast the issue as a civics lesson in free speech. No one at Calvin is arguing against the chief justice’s right to express his opinions, or against the university as a proper venue for considering a diverse array of viewpoints. The Calvin faction dissenting from Rehnquist’s presence did so because of the nature of the occasion. Rehnquist would have been an entirely appropriate lecturer at the January Series, or at some other academic venue; however, commencement is the one event in which the speaker’s views have traditionally been reflective of the larger views of Calvin as an institution and Christian community. Rehnquist’s record is undeniably cause for alarm (a point which I will expand later), and his invitation as commencement speaker was problematic for an institution which purports to be anti-racist. Not to mention, Rehnquist’s actual commencement address was almost entirely unreflective of Calvin’s goals and mission statement, making sparing references to the Christian faith, and none whatsoever to the Reformed tradition of Christianity.
In my four years as a Calvin student, there have certainly been no shortage of conservative speakers (such as the entire GOP primary last year). The fact that these speakers could come to campus without so much as a raised eyebrow should have indicated to Kamm that there was something different about the Rehnquist case. However, most troubling is Kamm’s lack of research. Kamm apparently has used past articles from the Grand Rapids Press as his only insight into the controversy. Therefore because the Press had not articulated on a point by point basis the objections some of us have to Rehnquist, Kamm assumed that there were no reasonable objections. Those of us writing for Calvin’s student newspaper actually took the time to research the controversy before staking out our positions. It would be nice if the Grand Rapids Press held its writers to the same standard.
Background research into Rehnquist’s past would have revealed that the chief justice has consistently hidden behind a strict constructionist judicial philosophy in his failure to aid the abolition of racial injustice and oppression. In the past, Rehnquist has used Jim Crow laws to prevent minorities from voting. He has lobbied against an ordinance that would require restaurants and hotels to serve all persons regardless of race. He was a vocal protestor of school integration in Phoenix. He has ruled repeatedly against affirmative action cases and Native American land claim settlements. In addition to this, Rehnquist has demonstrated incessant unwillingness to hire non-white law clerks. Even if one is content to dismiss all of this as permissible in light of his constructionism, it should be noted that the chief justice has departed with his judicial philosophy on several issues he feels strongly about, such as flag burning.
The most interesting part of Kamm’s article was his condescending reference to an old Bob Dylan protest anthem in regards to the Calvin dissenters. Yes, Mr. Kamm, the times they are a-changin’, but not thanks to people like Justice Rehnquist. This was the necessity of dissent: to tangibly illustrate that the views and actions of Justice Rehnquist are not necessarily those of Calvin College. I applaud every individual who raised their voices to make this known.