Last month, world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and up-from-nothing African-American idol Ben Carson expressed his contrarian opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman and that no group could change this millennia-old social institution. Appalled medical students at Johns Hopkins University, allegedly a place of intellectual inquiry and diversity and "a forum for the free expression of ideas," circulated a petition to remove Carson as commencement speaker.
Having gained widespread media attention for his recent National Prayer Breakfast speech in which he critiqued political correctness, Carson apologized for his off-the-cuff, maladroit and incorrect political critique of same-sex marriage, reiterating his belief that gays must be assured equal civil and legal rights without changing the definition of marriage.
Were Johns Hopkins students more sage, they'd Think Again before dissing this distinguished man of character, accomplishment and philanthropy for sharing Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage definition - until "evolving" last month - though not their political dexterity. Before exiting the ivory tower, students could learn from Jimi Hendrix, who believed, "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens," and Benjamin Franklin, who taught, "If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking."
Apparently they don't think much at Johns Hopkins, where the Student Government Association denied the pro-life group Voices for Life recognition as an approved organization. Without alternative voices on campus, how does the university assure the diversity it champions? Might ardent though free-thinking supporters of women's reproductive rights want to know that a representative of Planned Parenthood (half of whose budget is taxpayer-funded) recently testified before the Florida Legislature that the decision of what to do with a baby who survives a failed abortion be left up to the patient and her doctor, begging the question: Who's the patient?
Considering that abortionist Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial for murdering late-term babies delivered alive by snipping their spines, these aren't hypothetical questions. If "sunlight is the best disinfectant," shouldn't we encourage alternative voices - on and off campus - to assure an informed citizenry and a civil society?
Other instances of intolerance masquerading as tolerance are equally disquieting: At George Washington University, two gay students are seeking the removal of a chaplain for teaching Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality; the U.S. Army listed Evangelical Christianity, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism (along with al-Qaida, Hamas and the Ku Klux Klan) in a Pennsylvania Reserve unit training manual; and actor Jeremy Irons was labeled anti-gay for worrying that "lawyers are going to have a field day" if marriage is redefined and imagining estate tax avoidance strategies involving father-son "marriages" despite wishing "everybody who's living with one other person the best of luck in the world because it's fantastic."
Though distracted by ham-fisted arguments and irrespective of one's view on same-sex marriage, abortion or any other hot-button issue, Americans must resist diversity champions and tolerance enforcers who dictate homogeneity - as if there's one cosmically correct policy. Name-calling and social ostracism not only destroy reputations and careers; they suffocate the debate a free, pluralistic and informed society needs to ensure that its government has the "consent of the governed."
Throughout American history, we've navigated changes in cultural and legal landscapes while accommodating divergent views, values and (lawful) practices. In America's melting pot, prejudices dissolve through exposure to disparate voices and moral suasion, while legitimate differences are respected. America is the freest and most decent opportunity-giving society on earth because we've been a refuge for the persecuted since the Puritans left the Church of England to establish Plymouth Colony in 1620.
Embedded in our founding documents are uniquely American and revolutionary principles to protect our inalienable rights - including free speech and the free exercise of religion - and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." The barring of state-sponsored religion and the guaranteeing of religious liberty is what "the wall of separation between church and state" means - not a demand for the separation of religion and politics.
In his best-selling book "America the Beautiful," Carson recounts how this "American Way" helped him overcome poverty, poor role models, racism and anger. Born in a land of opportunity and cultivated morally by religion, intellectually by a solid public education and behaviorally by a wise though functionally illiterate mom who never made excuses (nor allowed him to), he reached the pinnacle of success.
Fearing America won't bequeath the same opportunity-society to future generations, Carson entreats Americans to recover our founding values, "set aside political correctness ... apply logic to solving our problems and add the godly principles of loving our fellow man, caring about our neighbors, and developing our God-given talents." This will ensure that America remains "a pinnacle nation, ... 'one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'"
Think Again - for students whose heads need examining to ensure that they still think, a brain surgeon is the perfect commencement speaker.
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.