KDKA reports that charges have been filed against the Carnegie Mellon University student who paraded across campus nude from the waist down, wearing a pope costume above the waist. President Jared Cohon, in a letter released to the University community today, said that campus police have filed misdemeanor charges for indecent exposure against two students in the incident.
Said the statement:
“Final disposition of these charges will occur through the Allegheny County justice system, not through university channels. There will be no separate disciplinary action pursued through the university’s internal process.
The students took part in a campus art event and, in the case of the student who portrayed herself as the Pope, made an artistic statement which proved to be controversial. While I recognize that many found the students’ activities deeply offensive, the university upholds their right to create works of art and express their ideas. But, public nudity is a violation of the law and subject to appropriate action.
I understand that this resolution may not be supported by those who believe that there can be no limits on the freedom of artistic expression. Others who were particularly offended by the incident may be distressed that more severe action is not being taken.
There are competing values at issue here: Carnegie Mellon aims to be a place where ideas can be expressed and debated openly, but also where people of all backgrounds, faiths, and beliefs feel welcomed and supported. Unavoidably, the expression of some views will offend some people; that is the price of this freedom. However, if in the expression of these views, people in our community come to feel that the campus is intolerant, then the other of our cherished values is challenged. In such a situation, the institution may find it necessary to reassure those offended of its commitment to tolerance and inclusion. In doing so, I do not believe that the institution is compromising freedom of expression. Similarly, it is reasonable to expect individuals to consider the impact on others in expressing their views and how they choose to express them. This is responsibility, not censorship, and something that our students, especially, should learn while they are members of our community.”
Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who had initially expressed his concerns about the incident, released the following statement:
“The Catholic Church of Pittsburgh acknowledges the fact that Carnegie Mellon University has taken the time to treat this unfortunate incident in a serious manner.
Once again, and as I have said over these last few weeks, this is an opportunity for all of us to be reminded that freedom of speech and freedom of expression do not constitute a freedom to dismiss or disrespect the beauty of anyone’s race, the sacredness of anyone’s religious belief or the uniqueness of anyone’s nationality.
Dialogue, disagreements and even demonstrations must be conducted in an atmosphere of decency, self-respect, and esteem for the community in which we live and those who live in it. I hope that all of us – including the students involved – can learn and grow from this very important lesson in living.”
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