Stewart Says She was Silenced Because of Religious Beliefs
By Francine Barchett, Cornell ’20
Jannique Stewart, a pro-life advocate, was disinvited from speaking at Cornell Political Union this spring. In a Facebook post, Stewart, who was scheduled to appear in April, said her right to free speech was violated and the cancellation was due to her “outspoken beliefs regarding sexuality,” namely, that sex should be reserved for marriage, and her affirmation of marriage as a male-female relationship.
Cornell Political Union (CPU), which seeks to promote “discourse with those from both ends of the political spectrum” and discuss “today’s most pressing political issues,” invited Stewart to speak about pro-life issues.
In a Christian Post article, Stewart, a representative for Life Training Institute, said that the CPU notified her that her views were just as bad as anti-Semitism and racism. “Their concern was that many of the students would be offended by my beliefs and would not be able to focus or listen to my speech,” she said.
The CPU disagreed with Stewart’s comments and released a statement that appeared in The Cornell Daily Sun.
“The accusations of discrimination that Jannique Stewart has levelled against the Cornell Political Union are false. We have never negatively characterized Ms. Stewart’s beliefs, nor have we ever attacked her character,” the statement read.
John Sullivan Baker ’20, president of CPU, told the campus newspaper that the organization’s primary concern centered around security for its members. But his explanation did, in fact, allude to Stewart’s “past advocacy.”
“We had discovered information [about] her past advocacy activities that could potentially lead to a situation in which the security of our members was jeopardized,” Baker told The Cornell Daily Sun. “And to prevent security risks we would have had to be able to afford security, and that’s not something we’re able to afford at this time.”
The controversy escalated when CPU board member Brendan Dodd ’21 resigned following the release of the organization’s statement. In an op-ed in The Cornell Daily Sun, Dodd said Stewart’s invitation was rescinded because of her religious beliefs, although he also disagreed with Stewart’s claim that her views were labeled as racist.
“Contrary to her characterizations in a Facebook post, Stewart’s beliefs were not likened to supporting slavery or denying the Holocaust.
Nonetheless, this was a decision made primarily due to Stewart’s beliefs,” Dodd wrote. “CPU’s claim that her invitation was rescinded to avoid security fees is misleading; there were no indications that our event would be protested, and no security assessment ever concluded that the event would require protection.”
The cancellation of Stewart’s pro-life talk is emblematic of a larger issue on college campuses regarding censorship, political correctness, and citing of security concerns for certain speakers, whether valid or not, and their associated fees, especially those who espouse biblical values or disagree with liberal viewpoints.
Despite the apparent bias against the expression of biblical views on sexuality displayed by CPU, some Christians at Cornell do not feel like their religious freedom is suppressed on campus. Some find more opportunities than not when they muster up the courage to speak about their faith.
Jeremy Kline ’22 said Cornell fosters a “sufficiently inclusive” community for interfaith dialogue.
“I don’t hide my faith,” the engineering physics major said. “There were times during the school year when, if I hadn’t had a good conversation about spiritual things with a non-Christian for more than three or four days, I started to feel something was wrong. That’s how open people are to faith-related conversation.”
Abby Bezrutczyk ’20, editor-in-chief for the Christian journal Claritas, is used to tackling big questions about faith and enjoys opportunities for dialogue.
“I feel comfortable sharing my faith because it is a part of who I am,” she declared. “I have a copy of Claritas in my backpack that I can give to people if it comes up in conversation…”
Bezrutczyk, however, admitted that a bias does exist.
“There’s a general sense here that Christians are a bit silly for having faith, instead of trusting facts. Many also have misconceptions about Christianity, or hold grudges against it because of how it is portrayed in politics,” she said.
As an environmental science major, she was troubled when her professor asserted that Christians do not care about climate change. That statement prodded her to dig into the Bible to encounter faith-based environmentalism. She left the experience with one major takeaway: “being a Christian in a non-Christian environment will sharpen you and make you confront your life of faith.”
Caleb Trieu ’22 was pleasantly surprised to experience a positive atmosphere during his freshman year and appreciates the Veritas Forum and other outreach events hosted by campus ministries.
“I kept hearing that [Cornell] would be a battleground,” the hotel administration and hospitality sophomore said. “But it turned out to be the opposite...I don’t feel threatened about my faith.”