Finally official, conservative student group hosts first speaker

By October 28, 2008

Months after a First Amendment controversy threatened the association, Thomas Jefferson now keeps the company of Edmund Burke. UVA’s branch of The Burke Society, a student group dedicated to understanding the theory of the late British political theorist, had their first major event on campus on October 15.

The conservative student group hosted flame-thrower David Horowitz in a lecture on "Islamo-fascism." Horowitz is as well known for his flip from the far left to the far right as he is for his often injurious speech. Horowitz garnered much displeasure from the Middle Eastern Leadership Council and some jeers from the crowd at hand when wind-bagging about the evils of the Palestinian government and the Muslim Student Association. Still, Burke Society President Luke Mancini was pleased: "We feel it went well as a whole. We don’t agree with all of Mr. Horowitz’s viewpoints, but we did want to invite him to share those viewpoints with our campus."

Next up: Dinesh D’Souza, the Indian-American Catholic academic known for his patriotism, his criticism, and-what else?-his controversial views on things like Catholic bishops and the higher education system.

"We read, discuss, and debate in attempts to move towards truth," Mancini said, "and we’re not afraid to go into hot topics." Mancini says the Charlottesville group is also helping some students at the University of Mary Washington to start their own branch of the Burke Society.

The Burke Society fought hard for their existence in February. Twice the Student Council denied the group official recognition as a student organization, saying its constitution lacked clarity, and contained a clause that may be considered exclusionary.

That clause was one of the founding principles of the organization; the group was a place for "conservative-minded students" to gather and discuss ideas. Mancini and his executive board were so persistent because, as he said, "we felt like there was a vacancy for our type of group."

Upon their second rejection, the group contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE wrote the Student Council to argue a First Amendment case for the group’s right of free association. The next week, the Burke Society was granted "Contracted Individual Organization" status.

"We want to raise the level of intelligent discussion of conservative principles on the campus," says Mancini. The group currently stands at about 150 members with 30-40 core members.

Schools: University of Virginia