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Mr. Brien McHugh's picture

Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at nearby Wheaton College, has come under fire from her administration for making statements not in keeping with the “statement of faith” that all Wheaton College employees are asked to sign.  As the University of St. Francis is a Catholic, Franciscan institution, Wheaton College is a Protestant, evangelical institution.

The Washington Post reported:

Hawkins, a tenured political science professor, posted on Facebook that she would wear a hijab during the Advent season in support of Muslims.

 “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” Hawkins wrote on Facebook. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

It’s unclear what specific statement Hawkins was referring to from Pope Francis, though the pontiff said in November that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.” The Catholic Church has taught since the Second Vatican Council that Muslims and Christians worship one God, though they view Jesus differently.

As you may imagine, this issue has created a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from all corners of the religious and political arenas.

As it should.

The ability to offer sincerely held opinions about controversial issues is a pillar of what we college professors hold as academic freedom. But does an employer have any recourse when an employee doesn’t toe the company line? I don’t have a pithy quote to throw out to you here…..this type of philosophical discussion is way above my pay grade. What I do have is an abiding belief that Saint Francis’ guiding principles offer some hope. Francis preached and practiced love and acceptance. Francis tried to make peace with the political power of the Muslim world at the time. A recent book by Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan, chronicles Francis’ endeavor:

"In 1219, in the midst of [the] disastrous Fifth Crusade, Francis crossed enemy lines to gain an audience with al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt and a nephew of the great Muslim warrior Saladin, in his camp on the banks of the Nile. Francis, who opposed the warfare, hoped to bring about peace by converting the sultan to Christianity. He didn’t succeed, but came away from the peaceful encounter with revolutionary ideas that called for Christians to live harmoniously with Muslims. "

So I ask myself, “What would Francis do?” I (please remember this is simply my opinion) think that Francis would take Professor Hawkins’ hand in his and pray with her. He probably would chat quietly with her for a few minutes. He might offer to talk with the college officials in an effort to hear both sides.  He wouldn’t judge, scold or cajole anyone. He would quickly get to the truth of the situation; that peace is a good thing. Aim for it in all that you do.

Hawkins has been placed on leave through the spring semester pending a formal review.

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