Since I wrote my first piece on this the other day, I have become aware of a little more information concerning the involvement of an organization known as CBR, the Center for Bioethical Reform, in Diana Jimenez's decision to show graphic abortion pictures on Biola's campus. The suggestion has been made in other forums that in some way the involvement of CBR excuses Biola's harsh response to Diana. I reject this conclusion and think it is worth addressing.
The original article by Jill Stanek did mention CBR's involvement. Gregg Cunningham, a 66-year-old former state representative, is the director of CBR. One of the organization's major missions appears to be showing graphic abortion pictures on college campuses, both Christian and secular, around the country.
Members of CBR were with Diana when she set up, with Biola's permission, her first table. It's possible that CBR was aware that Biola had a policy against displaying graphic pictures, but as far as I have been able to ascertain (I am open to correction on this), no such policy was official or published or made available to Diana ab initio, so it's also possible that CBR at most suspected from the outset that the school would oppose the use of the pictures. In any event, Biola did give permission for the table and only explicitly banned Diana's graphic pictures ex post facto after that first display, as I already discussed in my earlier post.
At that point it appears that Gregg Cunningham strongly urged Diana to go ahead and display pictures if she was unable to obtain permission to do so. Cunningham is apparently entirely unabashed about this and has posted the text of his e-mail to Diana concerning her upcoming meeting with the Associate Dean of Students. The e-mail is high-toned. Here is a sample:
If a child fell into the Biola swimming pool, and you started to jump in to save her, but you were stopped by an administrator who warned you that pool regulations prohibit any entry into the water dressed in other than approved swimming attire, the administrator would arguably have the legal authority to declare you a trespasser and threaten to withhold your diploma, suspend you, expel you, or even arrest if you jumped into the water in street clothes. But would he have the spiritual authority to order you to refrain from saving the child’s life? Would it glorify God for you to comply and thereby allow the child to die?
If the administrator ordered you to refrain from doing something which you knew would save a child’s life and you complied because you decided that bureaucratic rules were more important than human lives, would you not both be judged by God for the most Pharisaic sort of legalism?
What is the worst thing Biola can do to you for breaking this rule? Would it be more injurious to you than the guilt you would feel at allowing savable children to perish?
Speaking for myself, I think there is something not-so-good about a 66-year-old activist sitting on the sidelines and urging a young woman of approximately twenty-two, at the beginning of her career, to antagonize her Christian school solely for the purpose of displaying graphic abortion pictures. As I said in my earlier post, reasonable people can disagree about this issue of graphic photos, and it isn't a hill to die on, but Cunningham is more or less implying to Diana that she is obligated to go out and do so no matter what. I tend to think that older people should be helping people of Diana's generation to make prudent and mature life choices, and I can't see Cunningham as doing so here.
At this point, now that the university has reacted with such extreme sanctions to Diana's relatively minor act of civil disobedience, Cunningham seems to be planning an escalation. He told Biola's newspaper that his plans include "erecting large photos of aborted babies at every entrance to campus and flying [behind planes] 50 foot by 100 foot billboards of abortions at school events" starting this fall, 2013. It doesn't look like he explicitly said that he would not be planning all of this this if Biola had allowed Diana to display the pictures on campus for an hour as she requested, but it doesn't take much to read between the lines. CBR is taking pages straight from the activist playbook and ratcheting up the pressure on the institution from outside.
I sympathize with an institution's desire not to be treated in that way by an outside organization. I've always been the type to want to go in exactly the opposite direction whenever someone tries to pressure me in any way. So it's understandable that Biola should dislike Gregg Cunningham and should be reacting negatively to his efforts here.
However. All that being said, the involvement of CBR is all the more reason for Biola to have behaved better in relation to Diana Jimenez, their own student. By coming down on Diana like a ton of bricks and behaving like hotheaded bullies themselves, they simply play into the hands of the hotheads at CBR, who pretty obviously wanted to make a martyr out of her in order to win a right to the unrestricted display of graphic pictures. Why let them do that? Diana was willing to display one sign for one hour! I'm not usually one to talk about "taking an issue away" from someone else, but this seems like a paradigm case of an opportunity to do so. What Diana was requesting was not intrinsically wrong and was not a matter of absolute principle which Biola had to deny.
Knowing that Diana was under outside influence from Cunningham also mitigates Diana's own action. Her rather strong view that she was obligated to show the pictures was something taught to her by someone else. There is also the matter of interpersonal influence. Had Biola worked more cooperatively with Diana, her mentors at Biola would have been more likely to retain influence with her rather than alienating her altogether by turning her into the Enemy of the School.
Moreover, once they decided to deny her request and she did it anyway, the worst possible thing they could do, from the perspective of giving aid and comfort to the agenda of CBR, was to send in the gendarmes to threaten her, make a silly, totalitarian-style fuss about filming the gendarmes, and (this is the on-going issue) take away her opportunity to get letters of reference. Give her a slap on the wrist at the most (like, a $25 fine or something on her student account) and wish her well in the future with her degree. It's unclear what CBR would have done at that point, but the press would be much better in any event.
So I do not see the involvement of CBR as an argument for the extreme treatment Diana has received but rather as an argument against. Biola needs to separate its dislike of Gregg Cunningham from its internal decisions about how to treat its own students.
I wish I had an update to give, but I am not directly in touch with anyone further informed. I don't even know if the university dropped its bluff and allowed Diana to march in the graduation ceremony on May 24, though I'm guessing they did. As for the letters of reference issue, I would assume that continues to be on-going.
And by the way: Biola has now published two responses to this issue but has not mentioned the letters of reference in either one. What's that about? If it was all some sort of misunderstanding (or "misunderstanding") they could have said that. If Dr. Elliott has been told that she can't do that, they could have said that. But not a word about it at all. Yet that's the most outrageous part of the whole thing!
This post is written in part to tell Biola that those of us interested in this incident aren't just going to forget about it. The university needs to make things right with Diana Jimenez post haste and make it clear that faculty are free to write her letters of reference. Obviously, the only possible authority Dr. Elliott could have been claiming for blocking those letters was her authority qua head of the nursing department. If higher administration allows that to stand unchallenged, it is implicitly endorsing that misuse of her position. Hence, Dr. Elliott's action, even if originally undertaken on her own, constitutes an action by the school against the student. Biola's administrators cannot and should not pretend that that part of the whole matter never happened or has nothing to do with them. As I said in my earlier post, the letters of reference issue should be addressed yesterday, and the longer it remains unaddressed, for a graduate presumably seeking employment, the more harm has been done to the student and the more she deserves reparation.
I hope that anyone who has further information and is at liberty to report it will let me have an update.