Rocky Mountain College made the right decision for its commencement speaker.
No, we're not necessarily saying Montana billionaire Greg Gianforte was the perfect pick to speak at this year's graduation. Instead, we think that letting Gianforte speak at commencement was the right decision, rather than unceremoniously dumping him because some might be upset with his odd scientific and possibly troubling worldviews.
Billings is the second Montana community which has been roiled by Gianforte speaking at graduation. Montana Tech in Butte also invited Gianforte to commencement despite protests from some on faculty concerned that his views are terribly unscientific for a place that specializes in science. One professor even went as far as to compare Gianforte to Osama bin Laden.
Here in Billings the reaction has been much less vitriolic. Whether that's a function of private school versus public, or a different climate is impossible to say.
Yet keeping Gianforte as the graduation speaker makes sense for more than the poor etiquette of rescinding the invitation.
Instead, we believe two important principles are preserved by letting Gianforte speak.
Critics of Gianforte's position might be loathe to admit it, but this highly successful businessman might actually have something insightful and meaningful to say to recently minted graduates who hope to achieve the kind of wild success he has.
Secondly, and most importantly, it's a sad and scary day when, in a country that cherishes free speech, we say: Here is a person who must not be allowed to speak. Listening to someone speak doesn't mean we abdicate thinking critically. Moreover, we sometimes need to hear those with whom we vehemently disagree. That is the heart of public discourse and the currency for the marketplace of ideas.
That being said, we should point out: We have no idea what Gianforte will speak about. We hope he'll use the opportunity to share some of his experiences with success and failure to help inspire the next generation of leaders. We hope he emphasizes that although this class is graduating, the students' education is not over, it's just the beginning.
And, Gianforte should be heard out not because he's an expert in the creation of the world. He shouldn't be asked to speak because he's a moral authority.
Simply put, Gianforte's virtue — if that is the correct term — is his success in business and technology. Money is a measure of success, not a guarantee of moral superiority.
Let's be honest: From news reports, Gianforte's views on the creation of the world run against science. They are convictions of faith, not supported by the evidence of science. But, Gianforte is not being asked to speak at either institution because of his views on creation.
The Gianforte family view on homosexuality and gay marriage are also troubling. While Gianforte has recently written more about the dangers of discrimination, questions remain. But Gianforte isn't being asked to speak because he's considered an authority on gay marriage or civil rights.
And, it's also hard to criticize the man before he's even opened his mouth.
So, we'll say it again: Let the man speak.