Fighting Discrimination

Beware of those who don’t want you to learn

  Rob Boston

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker has found himself in a spot of trouble for delivering a commencement address during which he told women they’d achieve true happiness by staying home and raising children, not seeking careers.

The blowback has been predictable. But, despite what some on the right are asserting, no one is seriously disputing Butker’s right to say these things. (And remember, he delivered the remarks at a conservative Catholic college, where they were well received.) But free speech is not the same as consequence-free speech. When you say something that is controversial, out of touch or just plain dumb, there will be a reaction. And that’s what Butker is facing.

A long history of anti-intellectualism

Butker’s remarks sounded familiar to me because I’ve been listening to Christian Nationalists heap disdain on education – especially higher education – for more than three decades. The stereotype of the crazed college professor who can’t wait to crush your child’s faith and turn her into a flaming liberal is frequently trotted out. Add to that the constant attacks on public schools and libraries, and you have a movement that often comes across as positively anti-intellectual.

Others have picked up on this. This blogger wrote about it 10 years ago.

We’re all familiar with extreme fundamentalist groups that deny education to women or provide a substandard one. They appear in many faith communities. In her popular memoir Educated, Tara Westover wrote about her experiences growing up in a community like this and how she had to fight to access knowledge.

Confronting anti-education forces

The question is not what should happen to Butker. That’s a distraction. What we really need to focus on – and confront – is what he represents: the forces in this country that seek to squelch access to knowledge or would advise people not to use what they’ve learned, because they fear it is in conflict with a narrow, fundamentalist worldview where powerful men just happen to call all the shots.

This means opposing the book banners, the science deniers, the “facts be damned” brigade and all those who believe their interpretation of ancient tomes they deem holy gives them the right to tell you what to do.

And yes, that means ensuring the success of public education, public libraries and other institutions that shine the light of knowledge in dark places. There is a reason Christian Nationalists labor so much to undermine these institutions: They are a threat to them and their agenda.

If we do it right, the next time someone like Harrison Butker comes along peddling paternalistic and patriarchal Christian Nationalist nonsense, he’ll be dismissed as the fringe figure he is and given some advice for himself: stick to kicking footballs.

P.S. If you’d like to hear a more inspiring, inclusive graduation-related speech, check out this story about remarks that AU President and CEO Rachel Laser delivered to graduating seniors at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., May 18.

Congress needs to hear from you!

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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