Bishop John Stowe’s patronizing response to the events faced by the Catholic Covington High School students who were peacefully attending the March for Life in Washington D.C. gives cover to the kind of outrageous attacks on student pro-life speech that we witness almost every day at Students for Life of America.
Many Catholics like myself were extremely disappointed that rather than taking the time to understand the events that took place after the March for Life, the Bishop of Lexington wrote that he was “ashamed” of students whom he could have talked with to learn more about the encounter with professional protestors who later tried to disrupt Holy Mass at the National Shrine. Equally distressing was how the Bishop further blackened their reputations by making assumptions about the political meaning of a hat, adding the gravitas of his position within the Church to the political activists who have made a Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat a symbol for their agitation.
In conflating a political agenda on immigration with the sentiments of students who took their time to march for mothers and their preborn children, he used the kind of language that hardened activists employ to water down the pro-life position. In modern political thought, being pro-life means opposing abortion and its many harms. It means working towards making abortion illegal and unthinkable, ensuring that no woman ever feels like she must choose the violence that is abortion.
The pro-life movement must remain narrow and focused on this mission and seek to create a truly diverse movement, filled with individuals of all faiths and political ideologies. As pro-lifers and Catholics, we must all agree on the dignity of every human person, however, we all aren’t called to agree on the same policy solutions to our country’s other pressing issues.
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Because an individual may choose to wear a MAGA hat does not mean that they are heartless when it comes to the struggle of immigrants in our nation, nor does it mean that they care less for the marginalized or the poor. It means that you may disagree with their proposed policy solutions. And that’s an important point we must debate.
But to say that by simply wearing a red hat, one shows support for racism and the “politics of hate” is a cruel and dangerous generalization in which millions of Americans who voted for President Trump, many of them faithful Catholics, are labeled as “racists” and “hateful.” Such statements further contribute to the division we suffer in our nation.
Compare the Bishop’s condemnation of the hat with what the writers at Daily Kos said of the Covington Students: “Make no mistake: objectively speaking, the teenagers were hardly the sweet angels that conservative media now makes them out to be. They chose to attend a religious event and they chose to wear, or were told to wear, those politically controversial MAGA caps.”
This kind of blanket condemnation takes place in an environment in which standing for life – “choosing to attend a religious event” – was reason enough to attack them. The hat was an after effect.
Facts about the Covington confrontation revealed that adults who agitated the situation for their own political purposes first approached these students. This is a trend we are witnessing at Students for Life of America, as we observe adults using their experience and authority to harass students and suppress their free-speech rights.
About a week after the incident with the Covington High School students, Hispanic Catholic students who had attended the Walk for Life in San Francisco were ejected from an art gallery after an employee noticed the students carrying two, folded-up Students for Life signs.
Again, an adult approached the students, castigating them for their pro-life beliefs. You can watch this for yourself in a video taken by the students.
As I recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, we are seeing frequent attacks on student free speech, often orchestrated by adults who should be teaching students how to engage, not telling them to be seen and not heard or perhaps not seen at all.
As voters, as Catholics, as people in the public arena, we may disagree on public policy, but I would pray that all of us would support a right to life for the preborn and the rights of these young people trying be a voice for the voiceless and becoming involved in our nation’s political process. We need this generation.
My hope is Bishop Stowe will join me in supporting the Covington Catholic High School students who should not be subject to public ridicule, and facing death threats, for daring to March for Life.
Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America with more than 1,220 groups on high school, college and university campuses in all 50 states.