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Betsy DeVos Watch: Another speech at a religious university founded by Billionaire Christian Tom Monaghan

May 10, 2018

As we reported on in December, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education has a penchant for speaking at organizations or educational institutions that shares her ideological perspective. 

It seems clear by now that DeVos choses to speak in public at places where she is welcomed, because virtually every other place she has given a speech has been met with significant resistance

Therefore, it is no surprise that on May 5th, Betsy DeVos chose to give a commencement speech at a University that shares her values. The Secretary of Education spoke at Ave Maria University last week, a conservative Catholic university that was founded by Domino’s Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan.

Just days before Betsy DeVos delivered the commencement speech at Ave Maria University, it’s president, Jim Towey, wrote an article on the school’s blog, entitled, Why We’re Honored To Host Betsy DeVos At Our University’s Commencement. In that article, Towey was hyper-critical of the Obama administration’s  policies that were adopted through the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Towey then goes on to write:

One of the biggest threats to Ave Maria and other higher education institutions in the Obama era was the 2011 OCR directive on how colleges were to proceed in investigating Title IX sexual assault claims on campus.  While the goal was widely supported – to ensure colleges “take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the requirements of Title IX” – the implementation and fear of a forced settlement agreement meant that university officials everywhere scrambled to hire “regulatory czars” and more staff to deal with the mountain of new requirements.  By government edict, the evidentiary standard on sexual assault cases was lowered to a “preponderance of the evidence test” and any college with a higher standard or other safeguards for the accused had to amend their procedures and rules . . . or else.

This clear overreach by social engineering zealots in the upper echelons of the Department defeated the laudable intent of protecting students from sexual assault and bringing justice to perpetrators.  OCR boasted at the end of Obama’s eight years that it had “proactively initiated” over 200 investigations and received a record-breaking 76,022 complaints. Maybe so, but the dragnet also surely victimized students wrongfully accused of sexual assault.  In addition to being denied their right to due process, they have and will suffer immeasurably from the ordeal. Many colleges chose not to defend their practices but instead took the equivalent of a “plea deal” by signing “resolution agreements” to escape OCR’s investigative tentacles.   

Towey also writes about the abomination of gender identity that now operates outside of the male and female gender framework. The Ave Maria University president said that  the idea that people can self-identify on their gender, “sent shivers to any faith-based or other college like ours who values religious liberty and devotes a great deal of study to theology and the “assigner” who created us.”

With this kind of worldview, you can see why the university invited Betsy DeVos to give their commencement address.

Again President Towey gushes over the Secretary of Education, in his introduction of her before the commencement speech. Towey even thanks Dick DeVos for accompanying his wife to the campus and praises their commitment to family values. 

DeVos didn’t have much to say in her commencement address, other than to highlight and honor Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, both examples of conservative Catholic values in the 20th Century.

However, DeVos does acknowledge the founder of Ave Maria University, Domino’s Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan. Monaghan has supported conservative and rightwing Catholic groups for several decades.

I first became aware of Monaghan’s politics in the early 1980s, when he was deeply involved in an Ann Arbor-based group called the Word of God (also often referred to as WOG). The Word of God group was connected to the Catholic Charismatic movement, which wedded Catholicism and Pentecostalism. In addition, the Word of God community was very involved in supporting the conservative catholic community in Central America in the 1980s, which opposed the influential Liberation Theology movement.

Monaghan provided financial support to the conservative Catholic movement in Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1980s believed that the US government needed to support the terrorist group known as the Contras. According to Russ Bellant, author of The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, Monaghan was quoted in the early 80s as saying about the need to support the Contras, “Talk about dominoes if we lose! It’s going to be El Salvador, it’s going to be Panama, it’s going to be Mexico. We could have a Soviet client state along our border.

In addition to funding the Word of God community in Ann Arbor and founding Ave Maria University, Monaghan also founded the group known as Legatus. Legatus is an organization made up of Catholic businessmen, which refers to itself as Ambassadors for Christ in the Marketplace

Legatus is also based in Ann Arbor and has chapters all over the US, including in Grand Rapids.

Once again, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a speech at a religious university, that; 1) shares similar conservative values, 2) is openly supportive of the Department of Education’s watering down of civil rights and the undermining of Title IX provisions, and 3) was founded by a billionaire Christian businessman, just like members of the DeVos Family.

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