Opinion

California university professor accuses pro-life speaker of “imposing religion” on people

Conservative speaker Star Parker was part of a lecture series at California State University Los Angeles recently where a psychology professor angrily attacked her pro-life views.  Young America’s Foundation (YAF) reports:

During the question and answer section of the lecture, which was organized by CSULA Young Americans for Freedom, Dr. Heidi Riggio of the school’s psychology department asked a question about the “legality and safety” of abortion. The exchange quickly devolved into Dr. Riggio yelling at Star Parker from the audience.

YAF caught the contentious exchange on video:

Riggio peppered Parker with abortion questions, insisting that Parker was attempting to impose religious views on people, but Parker removed religion from the question, saying, “In a civil society, abortion should be illegal.” While this statement caused the audience to erupt in applause, Riggio wasn’t finished. She accused, “You want to impose your religion on everybody!”

But even though Parker was not lecturing on religion when she made comments paralleling abortion and slavery, Riggio continued to insist Parker was trying to force her religious views on others. The dialogue that ensued had Riggio escalating in her anger.

“Would you consider slavery a religious question?” Parker asked her.

“I’m not talking about slavery!” Riggio said.

Parker then noted, “If you put Roe v. Wade next to the Dred Scott decision they read almost verbatim.”

As Riggio continued to badger Parker, Parker concluded the conversation:

“I answered your question that abortion should not be legal in  society and we are going to do everything we can to end it, as we did with slavery, and I get the final word because you asked your question and there are others waiting.” [Parker]

“No you don’t! I’m going to continue teaching my students here at Cal State L.A. that abortion should be safe and legal! Your movement is to impose your religious beliefs on everybody in the country!” [Riggio]

“And one of us is going to win.” [Parker]

“It’s not going to be you!”  [Riggio]

“That’s what they said during slavery,” Parker concluded, “and 680,000 dead later, it ended.” [Parker]

This isn’t the first time Riggio, who teaches a courses called Sex and Gender at CSULA, has expressed anti-religious views publicly. She previously commented in an interview on feminist psychology that she sees religiosity as a problem in society and claimed her research has shown that “religion is predictive of rape myth acceptance….” She says this is due to “religion’s endorsement of female oppression, of women having lower social status and marital roles, and religion’s encouragement of punitive, authoritative childrearing beliefs.” And she makes no bones about her research goals, saying:

My goal is to show how religion is related to oppressive ideology, including beliefs about violence against and sexual oppression of women…. My personal beliefs must inform my teaching and research otherwise I am not authentic. However, I have to be careful about objectivity, and focus on evaluating information based on evidence, even if I don’t like that information.

What Riggio didn’t do during Parker’s lecture was show any attempt to understand how abortion and slavery have parallels. Instead, she accused Parker of comparing two dissimilar things. (Live Action News’ Calvin Freiburger has pointed out that there are “unmistakable parallels” between abortion and slavery.) Riggio also made the common mistake of conflating pro-life views with religious views. Facts about fetal development are not religious views. The fact that human life begins at conception is not a religious view. Groups like Secular Pro-Life are filled with people who do not hold to religious belief, yet are very much pro-life.

Riggio concludes in her research of human behavior that losing people to the “out-group” is undesirable — a psychological and sociological term for people who don’t identify in a certain group — but despite these academic assertions, she chose this conservative speaker’s Q&A as a time to argue in front of the very students she desires to “stay in the group.” Riggio said in her previous interview:

You never want to push someone to the out-group, or you have lost that person as a credible speaker and source. For example, I want to talk about abortion, but I don’t because I am afraid that I will lose my group (the students). Religion again comes into play, giving us ideas about abortion, when it is wrong, and when it is murder. So, instead of talking about abortion, I talk about birth control, violence against women, and female genital mutilation, which many students know nothing about.

Riggio spent several minutes of someone else’s Q&A time yelling contentiously and discounting the speaker’s points. This behavior was not lost on CSULA students. Campus Reform reported:

“I personally thought that the way this professor behaved was totally unprofessional,” YAF vice-chair Ana Martinez told Campus Reform. “It’s a true shame that CSULA lets its own faculty behave like children. Basically if a group of people don’t agree with you, they just throw a tantrum like Professor Riggio did here.”

Free exchange of ideas is supposed to be a hallmark of both our nation and of academia. CSULA notes it has “one of the most diverse student populations of any college or university in the nation.” Its mission statement says:

The University is committed to free scholarly inquiry, to high-quality teaching, and to academic excellence in undergraduate, graduate, and other post-baccalaureate and extended education programs…. The University strives to promote understanding of and respect for diversity, and to serve the changing needs of a global society…. The University is committed to providing students with a balanced and well-rounded educational experience….

This professor’s attacks on Parker and the conservative student club seem to go against this mission. Riggio may not care for religiosity or pro-life views, but harassing others who have these values and beliefs does not show a “respect for diversity.” Some might argue it also shows a lack of respect for humanity in general.

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