- Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Harrison Butker’s recent commencement address at Benedictine College has kicked off a much-needed debate about whether traditional Christian moral views are allowed in public or must only be whispered in private.

I’m a Chiefs fan and have visited Benedictine College multiple times, once as their commencement speaker. I didn’t speak as aggressively as Mr. Butker did, but I suppose having 320-pound linemen coming at you regularly builds a certain level of fearfulness.

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Whether he intended it or not, the speech by the Kansas City Chiefs kicker at the Catholic liberal arts college in Atchison, Kan. was more important than any kick he has ever made, even his kick to win the Super Bowl.

The debate Mr. Butker helped launch is simply this: In today’s culture, can one publicly express religiously inspired views of gender, family, and human sexuality or are they forbidden, forcing those who dare to broach the topics out of the public square?

On religious freedom grounds, Mr. Butker or any other American has every right to freely express his or her religiously inspired beliefs and is free to live that faith.  On free speech grounds, he is entitled to express his opinion. He’s not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and endangering anyone. He is yelling that our culture is under fire.

Dissent from the majority opinion and breaking out from the herd is what allows our broader society to see another way and perhaps find a better direction. Every break from tradition, for better or worse, begins with a differing viewpoint. Free discussion and debate are what makes America great and help our society innovate.

To be clear, one can support Mr. Butker’s right to share his beliefs but still disagree with him. Much of the media has distorted what he actually said in a thinly-veiled attempt to discredit him and turn public opinion against the beliefs he espouses before this debate can even be held.

One must even ask if the current demand for diversity, equity and inclusion also includes religion, specifically biblically-informed opinions about family and natural roles for each gender? Or does DEI only extend to those whose diversity the majority favors?

Just look at the contrasting reactions of the NFL versus Mr. Butker’s own teammates to see the right way to handle a difference of opinion. A league spokesman was quick to kick the kicker to the curb, saying Butker’s views were not the NFL’s and stressing that the league “is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion.” This from the same NFL that is slow to comment, let alone act, if a player breaks the law and is seemingly always supportive of progressive social causes.

Mr. Butker’s Chiefs teammates and coaches have handled the controversy the proper way, with respect. They didn’t vilify Mr. Butker for his commencement remarks, even if they don’t share his beliefs.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes made it clear he didn’t agree with everything Butker said but he would “judge him by the character that he shows every single day and that’s a good person.”

Both Mr. Mahomes and Andy Reid, the Chiefs head coach, emphasized that the Chiefs locker room was a diverse place with many differing viewpoints on many different topics and Mr. Butker is as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. The NFL spokesman also said that inclusion “only makes our league stronger.” So why does the league seemingly want to exclude Mr. Butker’s conservative Catholic beliefs?

As Mr. Mahomes rightly pointed out, “…I think that’s what makes this country so great is that you’re able to get as much knowledge as you can, and then you make your own decisions….” It’s the American way to encourage the free expression and practice of moral convictions.

The moment our nation stops allowing liberty of thought and speech and action – through coercive government action or cultural mob-like exclusion – is the moment we cease to be America. When talk show host and comedian Bill Maher recently noted that many pro-life people believe that abortion is murder and then added, “It kind of is. I’m just okay with that,” I didn’t call for him to be fired. I appreciated his honesty.

I like what Tavia Hunt, wife of Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, said, “Affirming motherhood and praising your wife, as well as highlighting the sacrifice and dedication it takes to be a mother, is not bigoted…. Countless highly educated women devote their lives to nurturing and guiding their children. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t make them hateful, it simply means they have a different opinion.”

Religious Americans have had it with having their time-honored, faith-formed views suffocated out of the public square. These thoughts deserve to be heard and considered in a calm and reflective way, not banned by the progressive morality police.

This debate is coming and needs to happen. The cultural domination by the Left and exclusion of dissenting voices has ignited and fueled a potent response from true free speech advocates and religious minded Americans that are just now emerging from their fox holes to enter the fray.

Harrison Butker has sounded the trumpet, calling us to engage boldly in the battle of ideas. We do well to follow his lead.

Sam Brownback is a former U.S. senator and governor of Kansas. He served as the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from 2018 to 2021 and chairs the National Council for Religious Freedom. He is also a Senior Fellow at Global Christian Relief

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