Jul 14, 2008

I Support PZ Myers

PZ Myers is an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and the author of the very popular Pharyngula blog. He is currently under attack by the Catholic League president Bill Donohue and his followers.

The case began with the news of a student in Orlando, FL, who attended Mass and took a communion wafer with him instead of swallowing it. He then received threatening messages, and the church filed an official complaint with the University of Central Florida against the student. The student also alleges he was physically attacked while trying to keep the uneaten wafer. The church's overreaction involved calling the student's act "hate crime" and "kidnapping" and procuring armed UCF police officers to stand guard during Mass to protect "the body of Christ".

PZ Myers, an outspoken critic of any belief in the supernatural, known especially for his criticism of religious excesses related to evolution, but also in other contexts, wrote a commentary on his blog in his characteristic sharp and provocative style, in which he exposed the hypocrisy and perverted moral priorities of those (including Donohue) who have made the incident into a high-profile national issue. He ended his post with a satirical request that the readers send him consecrated communion wafers, which he would then treat "with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse". That angered Donohue so much that he called his followers to write to the University of Minnesota (and even to the MN legislature) to demand Myers' resignation. Not surprisingly, Myers has also been receiving numerous threats of physical violence.

While Bill Donohue obviously doesn't speak for most Catholics, he is very influential among the extreme Catholic right, and he and his followers are very vocal and active, so I expect that the president of the University of Minnesota has been getting a deluge of angry letters and e-mails. PZ Myers has asked his readers to send polite messages of support to the president. Many other liberal bloggers (some of whom are known not to like Myers' style) are urging their readers to support Myers.

I wrote a letter to the president of the University of Minnesota, expressing support for Myers. Here it is:
President Robert H. Bruininks
202 Morrill Hall
100 Church Street S.E.
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455

July 13, 2008

Dear President Bruininks,

I wish to express my support for Professor P. Z. Myers, whom I deeply respect for his tireless promotion of science, scientific education, and a scientific worldview.

I am concerned that Professor Myers is, apparently, being threatened by some overzealous individuals who accuse him of offending their religion. If I understand correctly, some of those individuals have written to you demanding that Professor Myers be disciplined or even fired. Those demands are terribly misguided and I respectfully urge you to reject them.

Professor Myers' blog post that angered those people was itself a reaction to the news reports of a student who was harassed, threatened, and possibly assaulted, all for his improper handling of a Communion wafer. Our society's civilization norms do not condone abuse of persons as retaliation for merely symbolic offenses, and Professor Myers was rightly indignant at the treatment to which the student was subjected. His commentary was an appropriate and fair criticism of the abusers and an expression of solidarity with the victim. While it is not surprising that those whom he criticized detested his writing, that cannot justify their attempts to silence him.

Professor Myers' writings for general public are thoughtful, engaging, and highly valuable. University of Minnesota should be proud to have him on its faculty.


If you are familiar with Myers' writings and comfortable with supporting him, feel free to copy as much as you like from my letter. If you are not familiar with him (or not enthusiastic about his style), please consider sending at least a brief e-mail message to Robert H, Bruininks, President of the University of Minnesota; his e-mail address is bruin001@umn.edu. Even a very brief message such as "I support Professor P.Z. Myers" or "I support Professor Myers' rights to free speech" can make a difference. As Mr. Bruininks is probably getting tons of e-mail, it would probably help to give the message a descriptive title, e.g., "Support for PZ Myers".

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