A pro-family organization has come to the defense of a Duquesne University student who ultimately could be expelled from the Catholic institution for describing homosexuals as “subhuman” in an Internet forum not affiliated with the school.

The American Family Association of Pennsylvania, or AFA of PA, a statewide traditional values group, says that while sophomore Ryan Miner’s description of gays is harsh, he has a right to his opinion – especially when he’s making it in a forum not controlled or managed by the university.

“We cannot support Mr. Miner’s description of homosexuals as ‘subhuman,’ but he has a First Amendment right to express those views on an off-campus blog. The AFA of PA is also concerned that a Catholic university was so quick to impose sanctions,” commented Diane Gramley, the group’s president.

According to reports, Miner used the description in a posting voicing opposition to an effort by some students to form a gay-straight alliance on campus, an issue which reportedly has divided the student population. School officials said he since has taken it off the Internet.

His comments, however, stirred opposition among some students, who ultimately complained to campus judiciary officials. After an investigation, the Judicial Affairs office decided to take action against Miner and, in an Oct. 13 hearing, found him guilty of violating university policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation.”

As “punishment” – a term university officials say they don’t like to use – Miner must write a 10-page essay in which he is required to research and explain the Roman Catholic church’s position on gays and lesbians – a sanction he says he likely will refuse. In recent years, the Vatican has communicated that while the church opposes homosexuality, it teaches followers to respect individual persons, regardless of their sexual proclivities.

As for Miner, he says Catholic students have an obligation to denounce what they believe is improper behavior.

“Students should speak up and against the things that they feel are immoral or against their religion,” Miner told the Duquesne Duke, the campus newspaper. “Whatever I say impacts me as an individual but because I accessed Facebook from the University I am found responsible for the comment I made.”

Facebook is the name of a popular online blogging community used by a number of university students.

School defends role

Yet despite Facebook’s non-affiliation with the university, the school’s legal chief says Duquesne is still responsible for what students post there.

“Duquesne deals with any judicial violation that occurs whether it is on Facebook or off-campus,” Susan Monahan, director of Judicial Affairs, told the school paper. “If a student brings something to my attention that proves a violation of the code, I have no choice other than to adjudicate.”

Bridget Fare, a spokeswoman for Duquesne, told WND the university itself never brings issues before Judicial Affairs and that issues instead are referred to the department by individual students and faculty.

As for the rules, a university statement obtained by WND says the university requires students to be bound by certain behavioral rules whether on or off campus – a mandate imposed by the private Duquesne that rarely is emulated on public campuses, officials said.

“All Duquesne students are bound by the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct,” said the statement. “If a student’s behavior on or off-campus violates the code of conduct while he or she is associated with the University, the behavior could be brought to the attention of the Judicial Affairs office. A hearing may result, and a student may be sanctioned as a result of code violations.”

No sentence – yet

In response to questions about reports stating Miner is headed for expulsion, Fare said such claims were overblown. She told WND the issue of expelling Miner never has been broached by the university.

“We haven’t even talked about that,” she said. “That’s not even on the table at this point.” She said she believed expulsion became an issue because of comments Miner himself might have made to local media.

When pressed whether expelling him is even a consideration, Fare said she couldn’t “begin to say,” adding there are “several steps to take before getting there.”

“We try to make student assignments educational,” not “punitive,” she said.

But by reprimanding Miner at all, critics say, officials at the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based university seem to be sanctioning homosexuality – a practice they point out is very much at odds with Roman Catholic teachings.

“The school appears to be in support of homosexuality, which is in direct violation of the Catechism which defines homosexual behavior as ‘acts of grave depravity … intrinsically disordered … contrary to the natural law. … Under no circumstances can they be approved’,” the AFA said, in a statement.

Clear rules

Fare said student anti-harassment/anti-discrimination rules are spelled out clearly in the Student Handbook, which specifically forbids discrimination against “sexual orientation,” as confirmed by the university’s online edition of the handbook.

Article IV, Section C, Number 6, reads, “Harassment or discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or citizenship status, age, disability or veterans status … .”

As to the formation of the gay-straight alliance, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported the school’s president, Charles Dougherty, has established a panel of students, faculty, staff and administrators led by Rev. Tim Hickey to look into the issue

Fare told the Tribune-Review, “The reason Dr. Dougherty asked Father Hickey to lead this is because it clearly has implications related to Duquesne’s Catholic identity and mission.”

The APA-PA, while disapproving of Miner’s description, believes the issue not only centers on Miner’s free-speech rights but his mission as a Catholic, saying the late Pope John Paul urged his faithful not to be afraid of publicly defending traditional family values in modern society.

“Apparently Mr. Miner took the words of Pope John Paul to heart and is now being punished by a Catholic university. Possibly the administration of Duquesne should reread the pope’s words,” Gramley said.

The school says it supports the First Amendment rights of students but said derogatory speech is over the line.

“As a private, Catholic institution, Duquesne University supports opposing viewpoints and expression, as long as those viewpoints are not communicated in a way that is degrading and/or demeaning to the dignity and worth of others and reflects the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct,” said the university statement. “A basic tenet of Catholic teaching is the inherent dignity of all human beings.”

For his part, Miner maintains he’s no bigot.

“I don’t discriminate against homosexuals and I don’t hate them. I just don’t approve of the actions, especially at a Catholic university,” he told the Duke.

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