A UNM student said he plans to protest “Mass on the Grass” to be held at the Duck Pond Aug. 28, calling it a violation of the separation of church and state.
UNM’s Catholic student group, The Aquinas Newman Center, planned the mass to “kick off” the school year, the Center’s director of Campus Ministry Brother Gabriel Dault said.
Student and CNM professor Peter Lundman wrote a letter to New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, the UNM Board of Regents, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and others asking them to put a stop to the event.
“In previous semesters the Center has tabled there, but now they seem to be upping the ante by actually planning to perform a religious rite at a publicly funded university,” Lundman said. “It is a clear violation of law upholding separation of church and state.”
Dault said the service would be a traditional Catholic mass open to anyone on campus who wants to attend. Lundman said the service could be offensive to non-religious members of the UNM community.
“The announced religious encroachment on public space is disturbing,” he wrote in his letter. “Imagine an analogy; that some Hindu group has planned a ritual blood sacrifice of a goat to Shiva or Kali at the duck pond (I remember my initial revulsion at witnessing this while in Nepal). The offering of the ‘body and blood of Christ’ at the duck pond can be, and I think will be, equally disturbing to non-Catholics.”
Dault said UNM President David Schmidly wrote a response to Lundman’s concerns.
“According to the University, we (Newman Center) went through all the correct procedures to have our event and it was approved by the University,” Dault said. “The University in no way sponsors the event, and it’s the same as letting political groups on to campus.”
Dault also said the Newman Center is a group chartered through the University.
A 2001 court case, Good News Club v. Milford Central School ruled a government operated “limited public forum,” like a public University, cannot discriminate against speech taking that takes place within that forum, including any type of religious expression.