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Hamline professor Stephen Kellert calls on university administration to come out against Minnesota marriage amendment

Kellert: "This amendment represents a dangerous attempt to write discrimination into the heart of Minnesota law, an act that is fundamentally incompatible with our institution's stated values."
Kellert: "This amendment represents a dangerous attempt to write discrimination into the heart of Minnesota law, an act that is fundamentally incompatible with our institution's stated values."
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Stephen Kellert, a longtime professor of philosophy at Hamline University in St. Paul, is calling on university administration to come out against Minnesota's marriage-restricting constitutional amendment.

Citing the university's official Discrimination Policy, Kellert recently sent a letter to Hamline President Linda Hanson and Provost Eric Jensen in which he argues that "Where publicly stated values are shown to be empty of practical import, honest inquiry must eventually wither."

The Methodist-affiliated university's Discrimination Policy states that the school "does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status in its education or employment programs or activities." That implies that a gay marriage ban would be inconsistent with university policy, but administration has thus far stayed mum.

Late last month, Hamline sociology professor Melissa Embser-Herbert created a Hamline Supports the Freedom to Marry Facebook page. The page has already attracted over 2,700 hundred members, including nearly 2,000 within the first day of its existence. Hamline's total enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students is roughly 4,850.

Augsburg College -- an ACTC sister of Hamline's -- officially came out against the amendment last month, becoming the first "traditional college" in the state to do so. In May, the University of Minnesota's system-wide Senate voted to oppose the amendment, but U of M administration, like Hamline's, hasn't yet taken an official stand.

To see the full text of Kellert's letter, click to page two.

 

Dear President Hanson,

I am writing to add my voice to those calling for Hamline University to take an official stand against the proposed amendment that limits marriage rights for same-sex couples. This amendment represents a dangerous attempt to write discrimination into the heart of Minnesota law, an act that is fundamentally incompatible with our institution's stated values.

Some have suggested that any official declaration by Hamline would have the effect of stifling intellectual inquiry and debate and that the institution must remain neutral on contentious political issues. I vehemently deny such suggestions.

Consider that the very notions of "world citizenship" and"social justice" (proud elements of Hamline's identity and prominent in our marketing materials) are condemned by some political figures. Make no mistake that some vigorously disagree with Hamline's stated policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So Hamline has already taken stances on contentious issues where we have felt it necessary to act on our deepest values and highest ideals. Now is another such time.

As someone who teaches thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle,and Nietzsche in class, I endeavor to lead my students to question and defend their most deeply-held beliefs. Sometimes this means that I require my students to engage with historical figures who articulate hateful views in opposition to democracy and equality. Rather than simply dismiss such views, I tell the students, "you must tell me whether you agree or disagree, and more importantly you must explain clearly why." I beg the students to disagree with me,and offer extra credit if they have the courage to do so.

It is simply false that Hamline's official stance on certain controversial political issues has silenced discussion. Exaggerated politeness stifles discussion. Moral cowardice stifles discussion. For an institution to take a clear stand, based on its publicly stated values, will not shut down intellectual inquiry. Indeed, where publicly stated values are shown to be empty of practical import, honest inquiry must eventually wither.

Sincerely,

Stephen H. Kellert
Paul and Jean Shuman Hanna Professor of Philosophy


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