Let’s talk about sex. Or, more precisely, let’s talk about why certain members of the University of Montana faculty would prefer to talk about anything but sex.
Last week, UM’s student newspaper, the Kaimin, reported that assistant law professor Kristen Juras was going to the mattress over the paper’s “Bess Sex Column,” a weekly opinion piece penned by senior J-school student turned amateur sexologist Bess Davis. Under the guise of free speech not really being free or absolute, Juras argues that Davis’ columns “portray a hook-up culture that has unhealthy physical, psychological and emotional effects on students.” She also thinks, as the student paper of a state-funded institution, editor Bill Oram and his staff should be held to a certain journalistic standard—one that doesn’t include, say, advice about oral sex, as Davis’ most recent column did.
In an interview with the Indy, Juras further articulated her concerns. She respects a student publication’s right to free speech, but feels written guidelines should be put into place to uphold the publication’s educational mandate. She proudly limits her own students’ free speech by prohibiting profanity in her classroom. She says she’s open to the Kaimin printing a sex column, but that it must be “appropriate.” She questions Davis’ expertise on the issue.
With all due respect, Juras comes across badly on this issue. Who defines the appropriateness of the column? How exactly does the whole “I support free speech, but…” argument end? How much experience is expected at a student newspaper? In fact, we have yet to hear any lawyer convincingly defend Juras’ reasoning. (Sorry, Juras’ colleague, controversial UM law professor Rob Natelson, doesn’t count.)
That’s because Juras doesn’t have a legal beef—she has an ideological one. She serves as the faculty advisor to the Christian Legal Society (CLS). The organization, among other things, requires its members and officers to adhere to a “Statement of Faith.” The CLS website includes a resolution outlining the specific sins of pre-marital sex, adultery and “homosexual conduct.” The resolution goes on to encourage CLS members to engage those involved in “sexual immorality” and lead them to repentance.
Assuming Juras gets off on the CLS code of conduct, it’s easy to see her seductive First Amendment tease as a flimsy cover for asking the Kaimin to repent. We respect Juras’ religious views as much as we respect Davis’ commentary on college sex. Both have their place—in a newspaper, on the opinion and lifestyle pages.