(NEW YORK)— PEN America today sharply criticized the decision by Catholic University to fire a lecturer after a guest speaker invited to her class spoke about abortion in response to student questions. The free expression advocacy organization called on the university to reverse the firing saying it was a “gross violation of academic freedom.”

The speaker, a doula who also has experience as an abortion doula, spoke to the class about reproductive health as part of the Lifespan Development course. A student recorded her comments about abortion and shared them with the media. Melissa Goldberg, the psychology lecturer, did not discuss abortion in the recording.

According to the faculty handbook, “The Catholic University of America upholds academic freedom as a fundamental condition for research and dissemination of information.”

Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager in PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, said: “Firing a faculty member because of the speech of their guest is a gross violation of academic freedom. Religious universities are not legally required to adhere to the First Amendment, but as members of the academic community, they should uphold the tenets of academic freedom that they claim to support. This action against a faculty member–not even in response to speech of her own–is punitive, drastic, and far exceeds standards for academic freedom. If lecturers cannot safely invite speakers with relevant expertise without fear of reprisal, it will cast a chill over the educational environment at Catholic U, and limit students’ opportunities to hear a diversity of perspectives. Catholic U should reverse this decision if it wishes to demonstrate its commitment to open inquiry and free speech.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057