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The PC Inquisition Comes to Baylor University By: Steven Plaut
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, April 06, 2006

Baylor University is the Baptist-affiliated school in Waco, Texas, best known perhaps for its football team. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in Texas and, with some 14,000 students, the largest Baptist university in the world. Of late, however, the school has distinguished itself mainly by its evident disdain for the academic freedom of an eminent scholar and its concomitant promotion of a radical polemicist.

Baylor recently decided to deny tenure to Francis Beckwith, a leading bio-ethicist and one of the most accomplished scholars at Baylor. Beckwith had been associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies and associate professor of church-state studies. The vote to deny him tenure was little more than an act of political censorship directed against his conservative political and religious views. It has also turned into a media nightmare for Baylor's administration. Rod Dreher at the Dallas Morning News wrote this about Baylorgate: "The fact that a Baptist university cannot bring itself to award tenure to a scholar of Dr. Beckwith's stature is scandalous -- and will cause shock waves beyond Waco."

Beckwith's sin seems to be his belief in Christianity and his defense of the teaching of "intelligent design," the doctrine holding that it is possible to see evidence of an intelligent plan in the patterns of evolution and that advanced life forms could not have simply evolved via random interactions of chemicals. "Intelligent Design" has become the bogeyman of radical secularists, who want to make sure that no high school biology teacher in the country dare mention it as an alternative view of how biological processes took place.


The ACLU and similar outfits consider "intelligent design" to be the backdoor introduction of religious indoctrination into the schoolhouse. More troublingly, as they see it, it is at variance with their preferred political causes -- such as homosexual marriage, racial quotas, global warming and other left-wing doctrines -- which they adhere to with a near-theological fervor and which they have long promoted under the guise of education.


Beckwith’s supporters are understandably outraged. One of Baylor's graduate students described the firing of Beckwith in The American Spectator as a case of petty revenge. But the circumstances of of Beckwith's case are unusual and controversial, and have attracted attention and comment from First Things magazine, a prominent religious journal published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life (led by Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus). Its editor Joseph Bottum wrote on March 27:


“Baylor has apparently decided to sink back into its diminished role as a not terribly distinguished regional school. President Sloan is gone, the new high-profile faculty are demoralized and sniffing around for positions at better-known schools, energetic programs like the Intelligent Design institute have been chased away, and the bright young professors are having their academic careers ruined by a school that lured them to campus with the promises of the 2012 plan and now is simply embarrassed by them.”


Beckwith had been hired by Robert Sloan, Baylor's former president, whose aim it was to turn Baylor into something more than the home of a football team and to build Christian academic excellence and achieve for Baylor true research university status. Sloan's recruitment program was known as "Vision 2012." After being forced out of his office, Sloan was replaced by John Mark Lilley. Moving to fire Beckwith for the crime of political incorrectness was among Lilley's first major decisions. The thinking among the heads of Baylor, whose brains no doubt are composed of random combinations of chemicals, is that Baylor can't have any views on biology that have word associations with religion.


Beckwith is president-elect of the 4,000-member Evangelical Theological Society. He has published several books, including a new volume forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, and numerous articles in prestigious refereed academic journals (not exactly par for the track record of faculty members at Baylor).  Beckwith holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Fordham University and a master of Juridical Studies degree from the Washington University School of Law.  He was associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, and associate editor of the Journal of Church & State. [You can find more on his achievements here.]

Beckwith is quite open about his belief in the right to discuss "intelligent design" (ID) in schools.  "Intelligent Design" does not deny Darwinian processes of evolution, but argues that such processes are incapable of producing on their own such complex forms as the human eye, at least not within the limited time frame in which terrestrial evolution transpired. You can agree or disagree.  Biologists do not claim to have any explanation for how the stochastic processes and random chemical processes that produce evolution were created, nor by whom or why. Theories of astronomy and physics (not to mention economics) may be challenged by anyone, including by teachers, but opponents of ID have turned Darwinism from a theory into a theology, where no holes and contradictions in the theory can be constitutionally debated in a classroom. 


While ID is not the majority view among biologists, it is certainly regarded as a legitimate view worthy of consideration by a considerable number of scientists, including quite a few who are not religiously observant people at all. Among its leading proponents is Dr. David Berlinski.  The opponents of ID have tried to have it suppressed with truly medieval theological zealotry.  Beckwith is not a biologist and his case is not the biological validity of ID. Instead, he carefully and studiously defends the Constitutional rights of teachers against the Inquisitors, including their right to mention it in biology class.


Speaking at a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary forum this past February, Beckwith spoke about the issue of Intelligent Design in public schools and said the striking down of a policy allowing its discussion, based solely on the supposed religious motives of its adherents, is “logically fallacious and constitutionally suspect.... Religious belief is one of the few rights absolutely protected under the Constitution.  The government may penalize actions, not beliefs. Beliefs that propel a citizen to embrace particular policies may not be used by the government to limit a citizen’s legitimate liberties or powers.”


But Baylor's behavior in the Beckwith affair can be seen as particularly outrageous when viewed against the background of the fact that Baylor is home to an anti-Semitic pseudo-scholar of "theology" named Marc H. Ellis. He is university professor and director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor, not ordinarily on anyone's radar map as a particularly notable institution when it comes to the field of Jewish scholarship. 


Ellis is also Texas's answer to Norman Finkelstein, considered by the Anti-Defamation League to be a Holocaust Denier. In fact, there are surprisingly few differences between Finkelstein's beer-hall anti-Semitism and Ellis' "scholarly work." Indeed, the two have a long history of collaboration with one another. They appear at one another's conferences and on one another's web sites, endorsing one another with true brotherly comradeship.  


Ellis and Finkelstein were both featured in the recent book The Jewish Divide Over Israel, edited by Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor (Transaction Publishers, March 2006), on Jewish bashers of Israel and Jewish anti-Semites. The book contains a long chapter on Ellis, which tears apart Ellis' claim to be a "theologian" or even a scholar. Ellis, who likes to lecture in churches on Yom Kippur, knows amazingly little about Judaism, is a shallow "liberation theologian", and thinks Judaism is little more than a great suicide pact that seeks to promote Arab mass murder of Jews.  Ellis gives little evidence of having ever read the Bible (especially not in Hebrew), evidently willing to take Tikkun's Michael Lerner's word on what it contains.


Like Norman Finkelstein, Ellis is commonly honored and cited as a Jewish anti-Jewish and anti-Israel authority by neo-Nazis and by Holocaust Deniers, including on the web site of recently deported Canadian Nazi Ernst Zundel, by the "Institute for Historical Review," a fountainhead of the Holocaust denial movement, and is praised as an authority who helps debunk the "myth" that there ever was a Holocaust of Jews by the Nazis. 


Ellis has hosted Finkelstein on numerous occasions, such as at the 2nd Dallas Palestinian Film Festival.  Ellis sits on the boards of a number of anti-Israel propaganda organizations, including the "Deir Yassin Remembered" Organization, which also includes among its members such notables as Saudi-financed anti-Semite Paul Findley, Swedish supporter of neo-Nazis Israel Shamir, PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, and Israeli-convicted spy and traitor Mordecai Vanunu. 


Ellis has publicly endorsed not only Finkelstein's wretched little book, The Holocaust Industry, but also Finkelstein's scurrilous ad hominem attacks on Nobel Prize-winning writer and philosopher, concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel. Ellis is proud of his collaboration with Finkelstein and also endorses all of Finkelstein's venomous activities against Israel. Ellis and Finkelstein are listed together in the review of Holocaust pseudo-scholarship by Gabriel Schoenfeld in The Return of Anti-Semitism.


Ellis moved to Baylor University in 1998 as a full professor and there he alone directs "Jewish Studies" as the sole faculty member at the “Center of American and Jewish Studies." In contrast with its actions against Beckwith, Baylor had no problem granting Ellis tenure and making him a full professor. 


Yet Ellis has a "scholarly record" consisting of little more than poorly-written screeds full of liberation theology, mixed with Ellis' thoughts about the Holocaust and Israel's endless track record of "inhumane crimes."  Ellis seems to have succeeded in getting virtually no Jewish audiences, publishers nor journals anywhere in the world to take his "scholarship" seriously. Ellis claims to be an expert on "Holocaust Studies," but the main lesson he draws from the Holocaust is that Israel must be destroyed:


"To have the Holocaust part of Jewish success, to have the victims of the Holocaust become part of Jewish empowerment, is unsettling. To speak of the Holocaust without confessing our sins towards the Palestinian people and seeking a real justice with them is a hypocrisy that debases us as Jews. Surely, the ultimate trivialisation (sic) is the use of memory to oppress others and this, rather than the 'industry', is responsible for the difficulties facing those who seek to communicate the historic suffering of European Jews."  


The only thing of value that Ellis thinks Jews should derive from their experiences during the Holocaust is an unambiguous denunciation of Israel and total support for the demands and agenda of the Palestinian terrorists.  He denounces all Jewish denominations and all rabbinic institutions for their failures to endorse Palestinian violence unreservedly.  He is as hostile to the Jews of America as he is to Israel: "We as Jews come after the Holocaust, but we also come after the illusory promises of Israel and America. And we cannot find our way alone, only with others who realize that the promises they have been handed are also illusory."

As a Baylor professor supposedly specialized in drawing lessons from the Holocaust, Ellis has never had a single word to say against the Nazi-like demonization of Jews by the PLO and its affiliates, such as their claim that Jews drink gentile blood on Passover. Ellis is a passionate endorser of the "One-State Solution," also known as the Rwanda Solution, in which Israel will simply be eliminated as a Jewish state and will be enfolded within a larger Palestinian-dominated state that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.  In other words, Ellis is a slightly less-crackpot, but a comparably hateful, Norman Finkelstein. Unsurprisingly, Ellis led the campaign at Baylor to deny Beckwith tenure, along with one Derek H. Davis, and some other campus radicals.


This is where matters now stand at Baylor: A pseudo-scholar scornful of the Holocaust is hailed for conducting bona fide "academic inquiry," while a brilliant scholar defending "Intelligent Design" is singled out for dismissal. The good news is that Baylor is now known for something other than its esteemed football team. The bad news is that it is Marc Ellis.


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Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.

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