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Catholic group cancels convention after college bans activist's speech

Published Sep. 10, 2005

A Catholic peace organization has canceled a convention in Memphis, Tenn., because Christian Brothers University has banned a civil rights leader who supports legal abortion from speaking to the group on its campus.

Pax Christi USA, a lay-run Catholic movement of 14,000 members committed to nonviolence, canceled its Aug. 3-5 convention when the Catholic university barred the Rev. James Lawson from the campus.

Lawson, a retired United Methodist minister, was a key leader in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but also is an outspoken supporter of legal abortion and gay rights, among other issues.

"We invited the Rev. Lawson to speak about building a culture of peace through nonviolence; we did not invite him to speak on the topic of abortion," said Pax Christi in a statement.

Nancy Small, the group's outgoing national coordinator, acknowledged differences with Lawson's abortion views but said they should not "discount his lifelong work for nonviolence which has made a tremendous contribution to peace and justice."

Lisa Bell, a spokeswoman for the 2,100-student university, declined to comment on the decision.

The Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, where Lawson sits on the board of directors, said the university's decision highlights "the bad logic of the abortion litmus test."

"He believes that denying women the ability to make decisions about their own lives is oppression, akin to unequal pay and refusing to have women priests," Veazey said in a statement.