We have been following controversies over free speech on campuses, particularly in recent weeks involving faculty and student critics of the ongoing protests or the “Defund The Police” movement. Indeed, I have a column on those concerns this morning. The most recent controversy concerns a Catholic chaplain, Daniel Moloney, who has resigned as chaplain for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His removal followed his reference to the criminal record of George Floyd and equivocating comments on the problem of racism in police departments. His case raises the question of whether the free speech concerns should be treated differently for non-academic positions.
Moloney was cited for a June 7th email to the Tech Catholic Community, a group of Catholic students on campus. In the email, Moloney denounced the killing and the racism in society. However, he referred to Floyd’s criminal record and that fact that he had drugs in his system at the time of the arrest before stating “we do not kill such people. He committed sins, but we root for sinners to change their lives and convert to the Gospel.” Moloney also stated that we still do not know if the killing was based on racism or whether racism is a “major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.”
MIT’s Dean for Student Life, Suzy Nelson, declared that Moloney’s message “contradicted the Institute’s values” and “was deeply disturbing” and that “by devaluing and disparaging George Floyd’s character.”
The Archdiocese of Boston declared that Moloney’s comments “were wrong and by his resignation he accepts the hurt they have caused.” Moloney himself apologized but the Archdiocese reportedly told Moloney to resign from his role as chaplain, according to the Boston Globe.
I do not agree with the email and I can see why many found it upsetting. We all need to consider the deep pain felt by the Floyd killing and the continuing struggle with racism in our society. However, we often discuss views that we may not agree with on this blog due to its emphasis on free speech. There remains an unresolved free speech issue (which was not addressed by either the university or the Archdiocese) on whether it is permissible to contest widely held views of this case or the underlying issues.
This case raises the issue of whether certain positions warrant or allow for greater speech regulation. Moloney is not an academic but a chaplain. His position demands the obvious religious foundation to minister to the community. It also requires that the whole community feels that he is empathetic and understanding, particularly at a time of such profound pain for so many. That makes this different from the academic or student controversies that we have discussed.
Once again, the concern is the lack of a clear standard for faculty and staff as well as students. It is not stated if the school and church was chastising Moloney for giving opinions on such issues or for giving the wrong opinions. Free speech demands bright line rules to avoid the chilling effect of understanding as to what speech will be proscribed or punished. There is a growing chilling effect on free speech as professors, staff, and students are disciplined for stating opposing views on these issues.