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Letter: Faculty speaks out on human rights issues

[Editor’s Note: The following letter to the editor was submitted by a group of Belmont faculty members, whose names and university affiliations appear at the end. The document, as presented to the Vision, begins with the university’s mission statement and is followed by the faculty statement.]

To the editor:

Belmont University Mission Statement Belmont University is a student-centered Christian community providing an academically challenging education that empowers men and women of diverse backgrounds to engage and transform the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith. The University faculty, administration and staff uphold Jesus as the Christ and as the measure of all things. Students encounter Christian values relevant to personal growth and spiritual maturity and are expected to commit themselves to high moral standards. Belmont University empowers men and women to engage and transform the world. The university prepares students to use their intellectual skills, creativity, and faith to meet the challenges and opportunities that face the human community.

Where We Stand We write today to state firmly our position on crucial issues that are a part of the community’s conversation and reflection. Belmont University welcomes diverse opinions and perspectives as part of our goal to provide an academically challenging education and to create a community of intellectual exchange. We honor the tradition of academic freedom and the freedom of all of our community’s members to use discernment to determine their perspectives and actions.

That said, our community also seeks to be a place of courage, particularly courage to stand for the “least of these.” To that end, the signatories of this document affirm the following:

1. We stand against the use of torture. As stated by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture: “Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved—policy- makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.” The lack of efficacy in the use of torture to achieve any stated goals has been well documented, most frequently by those who are experts in interrogation techniques, however no possible result can justify our nation’s use of torture. The United States has a long history of standing against torture, and the United States Congress has repeatedly expressed that position by passing laws and ratifying treaties that prohibit torture and the mistreatment of detainees. No American, not even the president, can violate these laws. Echoing the words of the National Association of Evangelicals, we “call for the extension of procedural protections and human rights to all detainees, seek clear government-wide embrace of the Geneva Conventions, including those articles banning torture and cruel treatment of prisoners, and urge the reversal of any U.S. government law, policy or practice that violates the moral standards outlined in [the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an

Age of Terror].” We also stand against the narrowing of the definition of torture so as to make its prohibition meaningless.

2. We stand against the indiscriminate and hasty use of the death penalty. The taking of a human life is the most serious power a government might exercise. Any death penalty case demands full review and an examination of all extenuating circumstances and facts. Those in positions of power over human life should be held to the highest standard in exercising that power.

3. We stand for the importance of upholding the United States Constitution, the laws of the United States, and the provisions of all treaties to which we are a party. The appropriate response to an unjust or unwise law is the legislative or judicial process. Failing those measures, we look to the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who guide us in ways to oppose unjust laws. Writing from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. King stated: “There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all… One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”

In order to foster discussion and education on these issues, the signatories of this document intend to support opportunities to discuss the issues presented in this document. As an educational community committed to open exchange and exploration, we will encourage the sponsorship of speakers, discussions, and other events to further our understanding and inform our actions.

Respectfully yours,

The Rev. Marty Bell, Professor of Religion Daniel Biles, Professor of Mathematics Joyce Blair Crowell, Professor of Computer Science Gail Bursch, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Robert O. Byrd, Professor of School of Religion David E. Curtis, Professor of English and Associate Dean for the School of Humanities Jeremy Scott Ecke, Assistant Professor of English Kris Elsberry, Professor of Music Deen E. Entsminger, Professor of Music Bill Feehely, Associate Professor of Theater Paul Gatrell, Associate Professor of Theatre, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Tim Gmeiner, Associate Professor for Library Services Jose D. Gonzalez, Instructor of Management and Entrepreneurship Nathan Griffith, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science Charmion Gustke, Full-time Instructor of English Cathy Hinton, Professor of Physical Therapy Sandra Hutchins, Professor of English Caresse John, Assistant Professor of English Linda Jones, Associate Professor of Psychology David C. Julseth, Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages Terry Klefstad, Associate Professor of Music and Associate Director of Graduate Studies in Music Kristine LaLonde, Associate Professor of Honors Lauren Lunsford, Associate Professor of Education Mark McEntire, Professor of Religion Andy Miller, Associate Professor of Mathematics Douglas Murray, Professor of English Jeff Overby, Associate Professor of Marketing John H. E. Paine, Professor of Literature A. Darlene Panvini, Associate Professor of Biology Natalia Pelaz-Escribano, Assistant Professor of Spanish Robbie Pinter, Professor of English Teresa Plummer, Assistant Professor in Occupational Therapy Daniel Schafer, Professor of History Regine Schwarzmeier, Associate Professor of German Annette M. Sisson, Professor of English and Director, Master of Arts in English Program Judy Skeen, Professor of Religion Andi Stepnick, Professor of Sociology Steven P. Stodghill, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical, Social & Administrative Sciences Andrea Stover, Associate Professor of English Jennifer T. Thomas, Associate Professor of Biology Jonathan Thorndike, Professor of Honors Teresa VanHatten-Granath, Associate Professor of Art Jane Warren, Associate Professor of Music Andy Watts, Associate Professor of Religion Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English Judith P. Williams, Reference Librarian

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