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Kultursmog in Big Sky Country

Helena's Carroll College is big on football -- but absolutely terrified by Constitutional law (and free speech).

By 4.20.10

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Just because you're an aspiring, frustrated liberal administrator of a tiny college in a tiny city in the middle of the vast, thinly populated (less than a million) state of Montana doesn't mean you can't play like the big boys at prestigious colleges and universities when it comes to bullying people with opposing political opinions, or even shoving around people who present factual knowledge you are uncomfortable with.

Last week in my home town, Helena's Carroll College President Thomas Trebon and his faithful hive of a half dozen carefully selected V.P.'s, perhaps envious of University of Ottawa's provost François Houle's efforts to nix Ann Coulter's speech, maneuvered a last minute cancellation of a public speech and Q&A session on the highly provocative and potentially mayhem-inducing subject of the…. U.S. Constitution! No doubt President Trebon will highlight this noble community service when applying for a position at a larger institute of higher learning.

The speaking event was organized by Chris Shipp, a senior at Carroll College and head of the Carroll College Republicans (which unlike other campus clubs receives NO FUNDING from the school or student government). Shipp would arrange for the campus venue and publicity and was fortunate to have the local Tea Party provide the minimal funding.

The speaker was to have been Rob Natelson. Mr. Natelson happens to be the only law professor in Montana who teaches the only class on the U.S. Constitution at Montana's only law school. Further, he is a recognized national expert on the document's original intent and edits the webpage, The Scholarship of the Original Understanding of the Constitution. In demeanor and appearance, he reminds you of a very gentle William Macy. He is articulate and well able to explain constitutional law to the layman. One wonders why he isn't regularly featured as an expert guest on radio talk shows.

But President Trebon and his hive of VP's perceived dangerous emanations from Natelson's penumbra that are invisible to us lesser mortals. Indeed, in defending the cancellation of Natelson's discussion of such incendiary topics as the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, privileges and immunities clause, and perhaps even (God Forbid!) the coinage clause (all of which he has published articles on), one VP stated, "The Committee [the aforementioned Hive] was very worried that the 'Town Hall Meeting' would look much like scenes we have seen on T.V. across the nation the last few months."

What channel were they watching? Oh, those people trying to get information about the Obamacare bill?

These Carroll College administrators really need to turn off the tube and get out more. The last Tea Party event I observed in Helena, on the steps of the Capitol, was dominated by old codgers leaning on walking canes and moms chasing after youngsters. They barely had the energy to applaud, let alone hurl a Molotov cocktail more than five feet. (If only more people would make the good effort they are!)

And besides, the students at Carroll College are hardy souls. They can hear an idea without fainting.

A Catholic school, Carroll College is a diocesan school of the Helena Diocese. Its enrollment has exploded to 1,400 students in recent years due in large part to the astounding success of The Fighting Saints football team. They've won five NAIA National Football Championship, and eight straight Frontier Conference Championships. Carroll's Debate team is an even more impressive powerhouse: The Carroll College Talking Saints are number one the northwest, boasting 19 running regional championships and over 40 regional tournament championships. I will take a not so wild guess that former Montana Governor and former head of the Republican National Committee Marc Racicot was a member of the Talking Saints when he was an undergrad at Carroll College. Bobby Petrino, coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, is a Carroll grad, as is John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football history. As I said, a hardy bunch.

Yet President Trebon and the hive decided that a speech about the U.S. Constitution might lead unsavory "scenes." So much for the Carroll College Mission Statement, which states:

As an academic community, Carroll College affirms its commitment to the principle of freedom of inquiry in the process of investigating, understanding, critically reflecting upon, and finally judging reality and truth in all fields of human knowledge. As value-oriented, Carroll College is committed to and deeply involved in the further dimension of free deliberation and decision making regarding values and personal commitment. Each student at Carroll, through personal and institutional means, is exposed to value systems with which one can readily identify, including secular values such as the worth of work and the use of the intellect, humanistic values centering on the uniqueness and dignity of the person, and religious and moral values concerned with one's relationship to God, self, and others.

Let's hope the Helena Diocese Bishop Thomas, who is also Carroll College Chancellor, was not involved in the decision of the hive. He's a man of sense, as illustrated last December when Montana Judge Dorothy McCarter ruled in favor of protecting physicians who knowingly and intentionally provide drugs to patients wanting to commit suicide. During the hearing, "Judge Dottie" posed that if we put to sleep pets who are aged and ill, then why shouldn't the government be so humane as to provide that courtesy to humans? (Fill in this space with your own acerbic quip on Judge Dottie's reasoning powers).

"We are extremely disappointed in Judge McCarter's decision," said Bishop Thomas. "[This is a] …blatant disregard for human life." I pray that Bishop Thomas will issue a similar statement on the decision of President Trebon and his hive. Perhaps, "We are extremely disappointed in President Trebon's censorship of speech. It is a blatant disregard for Carroll's Mission Statement."

Trebon's exercise of power, as you might expect, is inconsistent and arbitrary. I think it was two years ago I attended a speech at Carroll College given by Sherry Jones, author of the novel Jewel of Medina. The novel is a purple-prosed burkha-buster about the prophet Mohammed's marriage to the very young Ayesha. Random House reneged on its contract to publish the book after an Islamic studies professor in Texas warned it might incite violence! (Beaufort Books later published it). Nonetheless, Trebon and Carroll College saw fit to invite danger into their campus by allowing Ms. Jones to speak, and even provided several ARMED GUARDS at the event!

Apparently Trebon thinks Carroll's Catholic 'Fighting Saints' can handle any gaggle of Islamic terrorists, but not a contingent of cane-wielding and stroller pushing Christians intent on learning about the coinage clause.

Chris Shipp tried his best, but Trebon wouldn't allow Montana's only Constitutional law professor and the campus Republicans the use of an empty and waiting room with seating for 120. A good thing, perhaps, for the speech was moved to an off campus location where over 200 showed up!

Natelson gave a great speech and answered diverse and sundry questions on constitutional law with an emphasis on original intent. He made two points (among many) that I appreciated. One, that when the Constitution was written and adopted, it was intended that ALL people be involved in understanding and interpreting it, not just the self-appointed experts. Two, that representatives at the time were far more honor-bound to represent the people---as opposed to today's representatives, who consider themselves our betters and dictators of what is best for us (e.g., Pelosi, Trebon).

For the next few weeks, Shipp's publicly stated intent is to lie low and making certain he graduates. He's learned firsthand that liberals won't hesitate to tighten the raw fist of power, even in the most trivial of affairs. He was visibly shaken and upset at the events. Welcome to the real world of real power, Mr. Shipp.

And President Trebon and his hive will have an amusing anecdote to chortle over at the next conference of college administrators in Hawaii or Vegas or Aspen.

A FOOTNOTE: In 2004, after teaching at the University of Montana Law School for 17 years, Natelson requested to teach a course in Constitutional law, of which there was none. The hive at the law school refused him. Only as the result of outside influence and legal maneuvering did the powers relent and allow Constitutional law to be taught at the law school! Natelson retires this year and will take a a position at Independence Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that promotes free-market solutions to public policy issues.

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