Head of UMN Morris Backs PZ Myers

It appears that the Chancellor of the University of Minnesota, Morris put out a statement today regarding PZ Myers’ recent activity in relation to the cracker/eucharist. This led to coverage in the Star Tribune where you can, if you like, leave a comment. The story:

Morris chancellor defends instructor who defiled Eucharist, tore Qur’an

The chancellor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, is standing up for a faculty member’s freedom of expression after the instructor posted on the Internet a photo of a defiled communion wafer with pages ripped from the Qur’an.

Paul Z. Myers, who teaches biology at the west-central Minnesota school, on his blog this week posted a picture of the wafer with a rusty nail through it and torn pages from the Qur’an. Also in the photo are tattered pages from a book by biologist Richard Dawkins that scoffs at the notion of a superior being.

Johnson said, while she believes “behaviors that discriminate against or harass individuals or groups on the basis of their religious beliefs are reprehensible,” the school also “affirms the freedom of a faculty member to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint.”

In response to Myers’ latest posting, the Catholic League, which for years has been actively challenging any instances it sees as an affront to Catholicism, said [bla bla bla….]

It is notable that Myers’ action (chronicled in this excellent blog post) involving the eucharist, various text fragments, some coffee grounds and a banana, was an act of expression, not a hate crime. The distinction between the two is clear. That expression is an unassailable right even against The Church and even in a relatively religiously conservative state like Minnesota …. indeed, ‘outstate’ Minnesota … is validated by the Chancellor’s comments.

But your comments could be added usefully to the Star Tribune piece. PZ is too shy to ask, I’m sure.


  1. #1 Hessenroots
    July 25, 2008

    “Many rank-and-file Roman Catholics do not endorse the league, which has no formal affiliation with the Catholic Church, because they consider it a reactionary orthodox group run by publicity-seekers. It’s president, Bill Donohue, has gone on record with inflammatory remarks about Jews, Muslims and gays.”

    That has got to have Donohue just a bit peeved. Even the people he claims to represent don’t like him!

    I was never really worried about PZ’s job status but reading this article does feel pretty good.

  2. #2 Duae Quartunciae
    July 26, 2008

    Is there any actual formal statement from the Chancellor available in entirety, as a press release or statement recorded on the University website?

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 26, 2008

    I googled for her full statement, Duae, but couldn’t find a direct link. Great picture of the cranchiid on your blog, by the way.

  4. #4 El Christador
    July 26, 2008

    PZ is a poser. If he was serious about offending people’s mystical and irrational sensibilities he’d desecrate a body. He’s all talk, no action.

  5. #5 Mick
    July 26, 2008

    According to Bill Donahue and co, El Christador, that’s exactly what he did.

  6. #6 El Christador
    July 26, 2008

    The distinction between the two is clear.

    Sorry, by “hate crime” do you refer to acts which are acts of pure expression, but are intended to incite or express hatred, or acts which include another criminal element beyond pure expression, such as violence or property damage or threats?

    If the former, I’d query that the difference between the two is really all that clear. (If the latter, no contest.) I mean, on its face. I’m welcome to consider arguments that a clear distinction can be drawn. Note also that I don’t say there is no difference, but it’s not obvious to me that there’s a clear difference, i.e. an unambiguous dividing line. Could well be more a night/day/twilight thing. Anyhow, it seems to me that “I hate X and think they should be regarded as subhuman and we should kill them all” is as much an expression of a philosophical viewpoint as desecrating religious objects to express “My metaphysical beliefs do not extend beyond plain vanilla materialist metaphysics and in particular I do not adhere to any religious beliefs which would hold these actions to be morally wrong”. It’s true the former might hurt and upset some people, but really, the latter is going to too. But still, they’re both calling the universe like you see it i.e. “this is the world according to me”. They’re both worldviews, they’re both philosophies, they’re both ideas which one might have that one might want to express.

  7. #7 El Christador
    July 26, 2008

    According to Bill Donahue and co, El Christador, that’s exactly what he did.

    Yeah, but what about according to the rest of us?

    Until we see PZ desecrating corpses, he’s a Neville Chamberlain appeaser. But he’d never do anything that would really rock the boat and actually cross people’s comfort levels.

  8. #8 Who Cares
    July 26, 2008

    There as still sensible believers out there, just read the response that should have been given at the start of crackergate:

    A smart believer named Zyanna said:
    Rights vs. entitlements

    In my church we do teach the Eucharist is sacrosanct, I think the term is consubstantiation (not really sure), but to us the bread and wine aren’t valuable as objects, only as part of the communion ceremoney. The experience is intended for us to draw closer to God and *closer to each other*. To me, what PZ Meyers did is irrelevant. He didn’t interfere in anybody’s participation in religious activity or intimidate anyone from participating in the future. Nobody’s worship was interrupted, and nobody was torn from communing with their God or fellow believers. Ergo nobody was discriminated against. I think we should distinguish between a right to practice our beliefs in peace versus an entitlement to have our beliefs honored and respected by everyone else. There is no such entitlement.

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    July 26, 2008

    El Christador, if you’re not finding the radicalism you’re looking for in PZ, maybe you should try finding it in yourself. Or maybe just express your views under your own name, where the death threat brigade can find you.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 26, 2008

    El Christador

    In the broad sense, there is nothing like a clear line between “a hat crime” and “an act of protected expression.” I should probably have made more clear, by the way, that we are contrasting (since we are talking about a state institutional head) the interpretations of the US constitution first amendment. (and fifth amendment, frankly.)

    There is not a clear a priori distinction. But this particular case is utterly clearly with zero ambiguity. That is one reason why it was brilliantly done. Two different (and some would say opposed) religious gorups: Radical fundementalist christians and Islam in general, together with a naturalistic atheist book, all in a trash can with coffee grounds and a banana to express the view that religious iconography and a banana peel have the same level of ‘sacredness’ …. I cannot contrive a clearer case.

  11. #11 Tony SIdaway
    July 26, 2008

    The term “hate crime” seems to be fairly well defined, at least in the United States where PZ Myers lives. The 1999 National Crime Victim Survey defined it as follows:

    “A hate crime is a criminal offense committed against a person or property motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a racial group, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or disability. The offense is considered a hate crime whether or not the offender’s perception of the victim as a member or supporter of a protected group is correct.”

    I’m open to alternative definitions, but under that definition it would be difficult, if not impossible, to cast PZ Myers’ acts of host desecration, koran desecration, and throwing books away as criminal offenses (that is, they appear to fall under no common law or statutory proscription). They are therefore not hate crimes in the sense I cited above.

  12. #12 asad
    July 26, 2008

    They are therefore not hate crimes in the sense I cited above.

    Forget “hate crimes”. They’re not even REGULAR crimes.

  13. #13 Nemo
    July 26, 2008

    That’s the point — they have to be regular crimes before they can be hate crimes.

    Now what I’m wondering is, is it really fair to categorize this statement by the chancellor as “backing” or “defending” PZ, or did she just call his actions “reprehensible”? The wording is (perhaps intentionally) ambiguous — she may not consider it to be a behavior that discriminates. Either way, though, it seems clear that UMN will take no action against PZ, which is — although not surprising — good to hear, in light of what’s happening in Florida.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    July 26, 2008

    I think we are trying to be nice to the Chancellor. What she really did was ignore the Catholic League and provide the usual “we hate hate” statement. There is, in fact, nothing else she could have done. It is her job in this case to follow the instructions of University Council.

  15. #15 Michael Neville
    July 26, 2008

    The Chancellor was basically telling Bill Donahue and his Catholic League to suck it up. If a professor does a non-criminal, non-discriminatory act on his own time, the University of Minnesota system could care less.

  16. #16 Richard Parker
    July 26, 2008

    Shame that Norman Finkelstein’s academic boss didn’t have the same courage, and respect for free speech.


    best regards

    Richard Parker
    Siargao Island, Philippines


  17. #17 Nomilk
    July 28, 2008

    Actually, Myer did commit a crime. He received stolen property in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 609.53.1.

  18. #18 Stephanie Z
    July 28, 2008

    Nomilk, just because you don’t have the imagination to figure out how to score these things without committing a crime, this doesn’t mean no one else does.

    And you might want to watch the accusations of criminal acts. There’s a reason journalists love the word “allegedly.” It has a lot to do with the fact that media company lawyers love it too.

  19. #19 Mike Johnson
    July 28, 2008

    Donahue said this: “It is a sure bet that UMN would not tolerate a white professor who worked a comedy club on weekends trashing blacks. Indeed, it would say that such behavior disqualifies his ability to be objective.”

    I think he is correct. As for “hate crimes” and their changing definitions according to circumstances, would hanging MLK in effigy not be called a hate crime? Would it not be called an act of intimidation? And if done by and bragged about by a professor, would he or she not be fired for any number of reasons?

  20. #20 Stephanie Z
    July 28, 2008

    Mike, if you think that showing up here instead of at Pharyngula is going to keep people from instantly pointing out that an unwillingness to think is not equivalent to an appearance that wasn’t chosen, think again.

  21. #21 JanieBelle
    July 28, 2008

    …still just a frackin’ cracker.

  22. #22 Stephanie Z
    July 28, 2008

    Only now it has flavor. Mmmm, coffee and banana. Hmm. And rust. Still probably an improvement.

  23. #23 Mike Johnson
    July 28, 2008

    Stephanie, whatever it is your are talking about, I wasn’t thinking it anyway, but thanks.

  24. #24 JanieBelle
    July 28, 2008

    Dear Mike,

    She said your analogy sucked.

    You’re welcome.

  25. #25 JanieBelle
    July 28, 2008


    She’s right.

  26. #26 Mike Johnson
    July 28, 2008

    I would think that a science blog posting would attract some objective thinkers and their comments, rather than a steady diet of insulting remarks and objectively hypocritical excuses.

  27. #27 Stephanie Z
    July 28, 2008

    You would think that, wouldn’t you, Mike. But we just keep getting people who think that “objective” = “agrees with me” and “your argument didn’t hold water the first time” = “insulting.” I’m curious about these objectively hypocritical excuses, though. Care to point at one and tell us how you’ve determined you’re being objective about it?

  28. #28 Mike Johnson
    July 29, 2008

    Insulting as in the “let’s insult Christians/Catholics some more” type remarks, like your “Only now it has flavor. Mmmm, coffee and banana. Hmm. And rust. Still probably an improvement.” (Not the worst I have seen within the science community by any means.)

    That’s what I refer to by “insulting remarks”.

    What objectivity I am looking for would be along the lines of explaining how there is not a glaring double standard on display here regarding Myers’ actions and remarks, RATHER than just dismissing an analogy out of hand. Frankly, it seems that no analogy to a favored protected group is acceptable among any of Myers’ supporters. (That is my experience.)

  29. #29 Stephanie Z
    July 29, 2008

    Mike, how is it an insult to the religious to note that the point of a communion wafer is not the flavor or to note that I, as a nonreligious person, would get only flavor out of it?

    Your analogy was not dismissed. Instead, I pointed out, as several have on this blog and elsewhere, that there is an important distinction between a group affiliation that is chosen and one that is forced upon someone. If you come up with an analogy that overcomes that problem instead of leaning on the same one that already didn’t fly “among any of Myers’ supporters,” let us know.

  30. #30 Mike Johnson
    July 29, 2008

    “Mike, how is it an insult to the religious to note that the point of a communion wafer is not the flavor or to note that I, as a nonreligious person, would get only flavor out of it?”

    Thanks for the sincere explanation of your thought process. So you were merely acknowledging the Body of Christ beliefs of Catholics. No offense intended! Thanks for that honesty, Steph.

    “…there is an important distinction between a group affiliation that is chosen and one that is forced upon someone.”

    The distinction is one of “your” choosing and is used as a convenience. It is wielded as if it negates any call for tolerance from non favored groups, but it simply emphasizes the degree of hairsplitting that can be employed in the name of intolerance. As an example of bigotry: “Mexicans are a lazy, filthy people.” (But Mexican is a nationality and not a race. The author has simply chosen to insult a political choice. People choose to leave or stay. OK to insult Mexicans!) But in reality, people are born as Mexicans and even if they choose to become Canadians or Americans they will always feel proud of their Mexican heritage. So Mexican heritage students deserve to have professors who do not deliberately insult them as an ignorant people and mock their sensibilities.

    Defenders of Ward Churchill “Native American” heritage quoted the accepted understanding of race itself as being merely a “social construct”. So where does that leave race as a protected group, when it is not real? There are always hairs to split, aren’t there?
    In the end, regardless of your own choice as to who you want to tolerate and who you do not, the Constitution and American society have declared religion and race both as being protected.

  31. #31 Mike Johnson
    July 29, 2008

    Sorry about the double click/post.

  32. #32 Stephanie Z
    July 29, 2008

    Mike, the next time you hear someone talking about “Mexicans,” ask whether they check citizenship papers or give an exception for those living somewhere else, like here. You’ll find they don’t. You’ll find, in fact, that they also mean those Mexicans born in Ecuador and Chile. It’s not a group defined by the members’ political choices. Race is a social construct, but not everyone gets a say in how it’s constructed.

    The distinction of choice is not made for convenience, or because it makes you wrong and me right. It’s as much for your protection as mine, because people can choose to believe lots of silly things. I know a place where I can choose to attend Flying Spaghetti Monster services/dinners. What I can’t do is insist that you have a meatball on your spaghetti on a Friday during Lent because otherwise you’re not respecting my religion. Likewise, your right to practice your religion ends at, say, my blog.

    Not all protections are the same, and the differences exist for non-arbitrary reasons.

  33. #33 Mike Johnson
    July 29, 2008

    “Mike, the next time you hear someone talking about “Mexicans,” ask whether they check citizenship papers or give an exception for those living somewhere else, like here. You’ll find they don’t.”

    “We” are concerned about choices, remember? So why are we asking the offenders who they mean by “Mexican”? Who cares who the bigots are referring to exactly? The point is that the offended and hurt are “Mexican”, and thus offended, by choice. Mexican is not a race, no matter how you try to imply that it is or should be considered as such. In fact very few citizens of Mexico are even who would be called Native Mexican. A large percentage are descended from the Spanish who slaughtered the Native Mexicans. Some are white, some brown, some black.

    “The distinction of choice is not made for convenience, or because it makes you wrong and me right.

    If it wasn’t a convenience, Steph, then why did you just spend time trying to make “Mexican” into a race and give “race protection” to a group that represents a myriad of races and colors with only politics as a common factor? That effort demonstrates the convenience of selective intolerance in timely fashion.

    “Not all protections are the same…” So some wish and for the most base purposes. It would open up all manner of possibilities for their hatred and bigotry. The Constitution and American society disagree.

  34. #34 Stephanie Z
    July 29, 2008

    Mike, if you’re not going to accept that I’m arguing in good faith, there’s absolutely zero point in my arguing with you. Piss off.

    However, before you go, I will suggest that you read your Constitution before spouting off about it. You’ll find, for example, that religions are not granted the right to vote and that Congress has no restrictions on the establishment of race. In simple, plain text, the protections are different.

    And of course Mexican as a race makes no sense. The concept of race doesn’t make sense. If you’d prefer to ask someone you don’t consider a bigot, ask someone from Guatemala or a third-generation Cuban-American how often they’re discriminated against for being “Mexican” and whether it just rolls off their back because they know the bigot really means someone else.

    Now go take your paranoia somewhere else. We evil, persecutorial types would like to go back to ignoring you.

  35. #35 Mike Johnson
    July 29, 2008

    “Mike, if you’re not going to accept that I’m arguing in good faith, there’s absolutely zero point in my arguing with you.”

    I agree and you are correct in assuming that I see your various defenses of bigotry to be lacking in good faith principles. But after all, Steph, you are defending Myers’ hateful actions and remarks. You shouldn’t expect to do so with a presumption that your defense is based on objective principles of civilized behavior and tolerance. Ya know?

    “Piss off.”

    Heh. Thanks for that.

    Have a nice life, Steph.

  36. #36 Stephanie Z
    July 29, 2008

    Now, can someone please explain to me why the folks who demand “respect” always come around whining, “You insulting, hypocritcal, dismissive, hair-splitting, intolerant, base, bigoted, faithless, hateful, presumptive, uncivilized people need to treat me better”?

  37. #37 JanieBelle
    July 29, 2008

    But we just keep getting people who think that “objective” = “agrees with me” and “your argument didn’t hold water the first time” = “insulting.”

    And that about sums it up. Mike has done a wonderful job of demonstrating the martyr complex so prevalent in this entire affair. It’s another symptom of the fundamental delusion that began the Cracker Debacle of 2008.

    For Mike, as part of an oppressive majority, to claim he is being persecuted by bigots when the minority doesn’t knuckle under and accept his innate authority, is not at all surprising in this context.

    It follows quite naturally after:

    the belief, based on nothing more than an anthology of bronze and iron age myths, that a magical, mythical man walked on water and rose from the dead.

    the belief that a mass produced cracker transubstantiates into the body of the aforementioned zombie when the shaman says the magic words.

    that it is meaningful, socially acceptable, and even desirable to cannibalize the aforementioned zombie dude.

    that assaulting a curious teenager over a cracker is justifiable and necessary to protect the transubstantiated zombie’s body.

    that calling for the termination of and/or issuing death threats to intimidate and cow a public figure into giving deference to this mysticism is acceptable, even honorable behavior in defense of the zombie.

    In the end, it’s not at all shocking that Mike cannot separate the questioning of his beliefs or the demonstration of the gaping hole in his analogy from racial or ethnic bigotry.

    All of these things, from the zombie to the cracker to the death threats to the perceived persecution and the presumption of an unquestionable and unassailable seat of preference and authority, are nothing more than contingent symptoms of an underlying pathological disconnect with reality.

  38. #38 laurisa
    July 29, 2008

    ouch! the ladies with the 1 – 2 punch.

    oh, the beauty of free speech! lucky little critters now, aren’t we all?

  39. #39 Stephanie Z
    July 29, 2008

    Thanks, L. I was a little upset with myself, actually, because I left “dishonest” out of my list. Creep had the gall to thank me for being honest. He probably should have thanked me for not being more honest.

  40. #40 JanieBelle
    July 30, 2008

    Thank you Laurisa. You should make it a 1 2 3 punch.

    Steph, you did a fine job. I was quite possibly too verbose, and used terms and ideas that are beyond Mike’s comprehension skills. On that note –

    Shorter JanieBelle: Mike’s a nutjob.

  41. #41 False Prophet
    September 3, 2008

    Actually, Myer did commit a crime. He received stolen property in violation of Minnesota Statutes section 609.53.1.

    Posted by: Nomilk | July 28, 2008 3:13 PM

    It’s not stolen if it’s freely given away. If you finish your meal at a restaurant and pop the complementary after-dinner mint into your purse for later instead of popping it into your mouth right then and there, is that theft? I would hope that case gets laughed out of court.

    It might be different here in Canada, where suggesting someone’s beliefs are ludicrous could lead to investigations by federally-support Human Rights Commissions, but thankfully your hate crime laws down south are more sensible, in that an actual crime has to be committed before it can be branded a hate crime.