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Another Catholic Ban for “The Laramie Project”

| March 26, 2012

With some Catholic exceptions.

“The Laramie Project,” the play based on the 1998 torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student, is playing all over the place: it just had a three-day run at Southern New Hampshire University and at Ohio’s Southern State Community College. It’s being staged in Fort Worth, Texas, in Huntsville, Ala., and at Chicago’s Redtwist Theatre. It was staged in Palm Coast by the City Repertory Theatre, in September.

It was going to be staged at Notre Dame High School, a Catholic school in Trenton, N.J. Not anymore.

the live wire flaglerliveA few days after rehearsals began, the administration at the school cancelled the play. It received a few phone calls from that usually obscure, always nameless murmur known as “concerned parents” brandishing the verdict of choice: “inappropriate.” The ban recalls the Flagler County School Board’s own trip-up over “To Kill a Mockingbird” a year and a half ago, a trip the board self-corrected before it was too late.

The play is about learning tolerance. It exposes bigotry and small minds without going so far as judging those small minds. That’s left up to the audience, with room enough to judge Shephard’s defenders, too. Aside from a few vague “fucks,” the language in the play is strictly PG. Leave it to a Catholic school to reaffirm the enduring power of regressive thinking.

From an editorial in the Times of Trenton: “But the controversy brewing over the play’s content threatened to distract from the message, administrators reasoned, and they decided to cancel the show. In so doing, they landed squarely in the midst of the controversy they sought to avoid. They also missed the opportunity to help the school community explore an issue of continued relevance that Notre Dame students clearly are passionate about presenting. In the years since Shepard was tortured and beaten to death, acceptance of gays and lesbians has increased dramatically.


“Yet harassment, humiliation and hatred of young gay people go on. Artistic endeavors such as “The Laramie Project” offer the means to deconstruct that behavior, explore it and discuss it. It’s a tough subject, but it was an opportunity for a teachable moment. Just the fact that the staging of the play is causing such a commotion demonstrates that we still have much to learn. Since Notre Dame has passed on that chance, we hope the students and teachers involved in this play, who sincerely believe in its message and its value, will be able to present it in another venue. [...] The play poses unsettling and multilayered questions. There are no easy answers. But that is no reason to shy away from them.”

Speaking of which: this from ABC News less than two weeks ago: “Rudolpho Tribulio and Anna Carmicheal, students at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., told local station KRDO-TV that their adviser took issue with a photo of a same-sex couple holding hands that was slated to appear as part of a collage on a page in the yearbook devoted to relationships. “She told me to in these exact words, you either cut the gay couple or I cut the page,” Tribulio told KRDO-TV. The two students were reportedly kicked off the staff after the incident and two others quit in protest. District 11 public information officer Devra Ashby said that the photo was one of at least three, including another of a heterosexual couple kissing, in a collage that was pulled from the yearbook because they violated the school’s policy on excessive physical displays of affection — not because of the sexual orientation of the students pictured. “A photo of two women holding hands could be allowed in the yearbook. That doesn’t go against the policy,” Ashby said. “The photo was part of a collage that included multiple pictures with multiple public displays of affection. When the photos came back from that page, there was too much PDA and that is against Palmer policy.” [...] Instead of the relationships page, Ashby said that the yearbook will now have a diversity page to highlight the student body’s varied backgrounds.”

Gays and lesbians excluded, of course.

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9 Responses for “Another Catholic Ban for “The Laramie Project””

  1. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    This is SO wrong!

  2. Robert says:

    The Matthew Shepard Foundation reacted to this cancelation. You can read it at http://www.matthewshepard.org/home/notre-dame-high-school-in-nj-cancels-the-laramie-project

  3. John Sbordone says:

    When do we learn that to create minds that can solve the problems we all face, we must allow those who learn to explore the diversity of ideas they will inevitably confront. To stolidly block genuine student passion in the service of an important and generally accepted cause, is antithetical to the basic function of education. How many examples of the foolishness of such censure do we need before educators learn. As we discovered at City Rep, the play provides a great forum to debate ideas.Those of us who studied with the Jesuits and the Christian Brothers appreciate the opportunity to debate, to have ideas challenged. That’s what made the education so valuable.

  4. BW says:

    Angela,

    Why is it “SO wrong”? A Catholic School has the right to choose what plays and material it wishes to use and display. In fact, they really don’t have to offer any explanation. And the general public really shouldn’t have any issue with their choices since the public provides nothing towards operating the Catholic Schools yet they turn out better students than even your state-funded charter schools.

    • Nancy N. says:

      “the public provides nothing towards operating the Catholic Schools”. See, what you may not be aware of is that school vouchers are being hotly debated in New Jersey right now (where this school is). So if vouchers pass there, the public WILL be providing operating costs to Notre Dame and schools like it via vouchers.

      • John Boy says:

        Cathloic Schools do get Federal Funding and State Funding, two examples come to mind, Title II Funding from the Feds and McKay Scholarships from Florida. There are others that have to do with Teacher Development, school lunches and they can apply for Federal Grants.

  5. Kevin says:

    Dear Angela,

    The progressive/liberal anti-christian agenda only supports and will violently block anything they disagree with, demanding that any organization (excluding Islamic fiath issues because of their fear of reprisal) march to their orders and beliefs considering themselves the highest order of intellect on any issue regardless of their lack of education or minority interest on a matter.

    This issue is simply something they constantly harrass the church for doing. They resort to using the so called wisdom of children as defense to supporting the play, children who are understandably passionate yet very weak in their depth of understanding the church’s reasonings as are the progressive “adults” (usually children in terms of their own level of education and reasoning) who attempt control over the church on these issues. They simply think they can tell the Catholic church what to do and how to do it because intellectually they declare it the proper thing.

    • Beth says:

      BW,

      Sorry but you don’t know the whole story. The school originally approved the play. In fact, the principal even suggested it to the director. Auditions were held, the play was cast, and rehearsals had begun. A few homophobic parents, none of whose children were participating in the play, called to complain and then, fearing a “damaging controversy,” the administration canceled it. As a parent of a cast member, I am furious that some other parent decided what my child can or cannot participate in. Hmm, sound exactly like the kind of “minority interest” Kevin (above) was talking about.

      The ironic thing is that the spring production at Notre Dame is generally the least well-attended of the school’s many yearly performing arts events. Students are not required to perform or to attend. Had the play gone forward as planned, probably no more than 200 people total would have seen the show over the course of four performances. Instead, nearly 1200 students, alumni, and parents joined a Facebook group protesting the decision to cancel, and newspaper stories and editorial criticizing the decision ran from coast to coast. Talk about your “damaging controversy”!

    • Nancy N. says:

      So anyone who disagrees with you, Kevin, are “children”?

      That’s funny you should say that because regarding name-calling as an effective debate tactic is usually the tactic of my 8 year old.

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