Athena Raped In Alabama

by Stephen Gordon
October 20, 2003

According to Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the presumed son of Zeus, attempted to rape Athena, the virginal goddess of both wisdom and justice. During the 16th century, the Pope figuratively completed the abhorrent act which Hephaestus merely attempted. Is Athena under threat today from yet another invasion of her chastity?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, of the Universität Wittenberg, nailed his famous 95 theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. While he found considerable public support for his work, it was suppressed by academia as well as by the Church. In 1520, a Papal Bull was issued excommunicating him, which Luther subsequently burned in public. He appeared at the Imperial Diet in Worms on April 16, 1521, and the Wormser Edikt was henceforth issued, establishing a death warrant for the founder of what would later be called the Reformation.

Around 1514 or 1515, Nicolaus Copernicus published Commentariolus, which established for the first time that the earth was not the center of the universe. In 1543, his life work was detailed in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Again, the Universität Wittenberg becomes important, as Joachim Rheticus, an astronomy and mathematics professor there, was attributed to having persuaded Copernicus to publish this important work. In 1600, one of the followers of Copernicus, Giodano Bruno, was executed. As we all remember learning, in 1633 Galileo Galilei was forced to recant his view of Copernicanism. Galileo spent the remaining eight years of his life under house arrest.

In August of 2003, the Alabama Scholars Association (ASA) launched a newspaper, the Alabama Observer. To date, professors have met incredible resistance, including threat of force, in their attempt to distribute the publication on Alabama campuses. The ASA is the state affiliate of the National Association of Scholars, which serves as an advocate for freedom and reason on American campuses. Most of the writers for the Alabama Observer are professors within the University of Alabama system.

Like the Universität Wittenberg, the University of Alabama (UA) system is supposed to be a haven for the free and open exchange of ideas. As evidence that the Observer is committed to such enterprise, UA anthropology professor and newspaper editor Charles Nuckolls stated, "We strive to provide access to all points of view whether they differ from ours or not."

Luther, Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo are not the only scholars to be persecuted, as this sort of activity has recently been resurrected throughout Alabama. UA history professor and ASA President David Beito wrote, "For the past month, officials of the University of Alabama have systematically subjected the UA Chapter of the Alabama Scholars Association to intense harassment, censorship, and selective denial of its free speech rights to use the campus mail in the same manner as other duly recognized faculty organizations."

According to Beito and other sources, the University is attempting to control the use of campus mailing fees and official mail boxes as tactics used to discourage the activities of the ASA. In one recent event, law professor David Bernstein of George Mason University, was scheduled to speak on the UA campus. Beito attempted to use the normal Campus Mail system to distribute flyers announcing the event. The ASA paid the fee, but dispersion of the flyers was initially ruled against. After losing an ASA appeal of the policy, the announcements were delivered by UA at the final moment, albeit too late to reasonably announce Bernstein’s speech.

In a related event, mathematics professor Stephen Dow was ordered to cease distribution of the paper in mailboxes at the UA-Huntsville campus under threat of being physically removed from the premises. Perhaps Beito and Dow would do well to purchase some nails in order to use Luther’s mechanism of distribution in the future.

Again, as with the heinous Wittenberg Gang, the university system is not the only tool used to persecute those with unique, original, alternate, or unpopular views. Government coercion was used then; it still is today.

After running for governor as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2002, the contract of Auburn University economics professor John Sophocleus was conveniently not renewed. Like the ASA and the Alabama Observer, Sophocleus was often critical of both the government and the state school system. Auburn officials denied that Sophocleus’ candidacy had anything to do with their decision. Former head of the Auburn University Department of Economics David Laband publicly disputed the dismissal with "Fact: in my 5 years as department head, Mr. Sophocleus was easily the best instructor at the principles level EVERY year."

Talk show host and UA-Birmingham professor of medicine Russ Fine has been receiving his reprisals lately, too. Fine recently contributed material to the Observer, and is loudly critical of the state government as well as the public education system on the popular Russ and Dee Fine Radio Show. According to confidential embedded sources, presumably in the Governor’s office, the Fines are listed prominently on Governor Riley’s enemy list.

The patterns used in Europe to suppress heresy while still in a genetic state are very similar to what occurs in Alabama today. The truly frightening question is which mechanisms will next be used in order to stifle the menacing voices of reason and change?

The original rape attempt of Athena occurred when she visited Hephaestus in order to purchase arms from him. As the story goes, she was able to protect herself from his perfidious attempts by stabbing him with a spear. A modern parallel displays to us that the constitutionally-protected rights of free speech and a free press are the weapons which best protect the people from rape of a different variety. That our universities would deprive us of these weapons is macabre, at best.


Stephen P. Gordon is a freelance writer and the Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of Alabama.

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