UPEI ideal place to discuss abortion

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Editor: In your 6 August editorial about the forthcoming “Abortion: the Unfinished Revolution” conference, you claim that “One would have thought that a more ‘neutral’ facility would have been selected … it could easily be argued that the abortion issue is well beyond the realm of academia and enters into legal and deeply moral issues.” This is a ridiculous statement and shows no understanding of the purpose of a university.

A university is not an arm of government, nor is its purpose to echo the opinion of a community’s churches and its congregants. It is precisely this mentality that led to the arrest and conviction for heresy of University of Padua professor, Galileo Galilei in 1633. While the Galileo episode was abominable — and Pope John Paul II did get around to apologizing for the church’s actions 350 years after the fact — its real legacy was a chilling effect in Italian intellectual circles. After the trial of Galileo, the intellectual agenda in Europe passed to places where the authority of the church and the influence of its more zealous congregants was comparatively weak — places like England and the Netherlands, and, to a lesser extent, France.

The lesson here, learned in Europe in the 17th century, is that churches should never be permitted to dictate the intellectual agenda of a healthy university. Indeed, a modern university is the ideal place to investigate difficult issues — even those which touch on law and morality which, for some reason, the editorial writer thinks are beyond the competence of mortals — precisely because it is free from influences that seek to stifle discussion and debate, and replace evidence with parroted dogma.

Dr. Richard Raiswell,

Dept. of History, UPEI

Organizations: University of Padua

Geographic location: Europe, England, Netherlands

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