The Templeton Foundation responds

A couple of days ago, I submitted a contribution to an online debate being held at the website of the John Templeton Foundation, regarding the foundation chairman’s $1.1 million donation to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, which has succeeded in depriving gays and lesbians in California of the right to civil marriage. In addition to protesting the gift and wondering whether it was ethical, in light of it, for progressive thinkers to accept the Templeton Foundation’s money, I proposed, somewhat (but not altogether) in jest, that the foundation should take up the question of whether marriage is a civil right. Yesterday I wrote a little more about what I believed was at stake, and suggested that scholars and writers should boycott the Templeton Foundation. I’ve now received an email from Gary Rosen, chief external affairs officer of the John Templeton Foundation, explaining why he declined to publish my contribution. I’m publishing Mr. Rosen’s letter here with his permission.

Dear Mr. Crain,

It was my decision not to publish the comment that you submitted to our website. The website is an open forum for discussion of our current Big Question on the relationship between morals and markets, but your comment was not on that subject. It was about your unhappiness with John M. Templeton, Jr., the chairman of the Foundation, for his private, strictly personal contributions in support of Proposition 8. You are fully entitled to criticize his support of Proposition 8, of course, but we are not under any obligation to publicize your views on our website, which is for other purposes. This is ordinary editorial discretion on our part.

You ask if we might consider, as our next Big Question, “Is marriage a civil right?” The answer is no, we wouldn’t, because such questions are not part of our mission, as set out by the late Sir John Templeton. John M. Templeton, Jr. is a conscientious steward of his father’s legacy and is very careful to separate his own political activities from the work of the Foundation. Like you, he has strong views on Proposition 8, but he does not use the Foundation to promote those views. You will understand, I hope, that we do not wish to use the Foundation or its website to promote those who disagree with him on this issue.

Gary Rosen

A big question about the Templeton Foundation

Suppose I live in a country that has long denied me a basic civil right, but recently, for a brief interval, that civil right became available to me. Suppose, too, that one cause of my losing this civil right was a gift from the chairman of a large philanthropic organization. Might it be possible to argue that the philianthropist's money has corroded the moral character of the country that I live in? If a philanthropist guilty of such an act of political oppression bought intellectual credibility by paying a number of professors and writers to hold a series of lofty debates, might he be said to have corroded their characters as well? As it happens, John Templeton, Jr., chairman of the Templeton Foundation, was the third-largest donor to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign in California, which in November took away from California's gays and lesbians the right to marry. I'd be curious to know how you folks at the Templeton Foundation reconcile the high rhetoric displayed here with the rather low and brutal practice of taking a civil right away from a minority group. And I'd also be curious how the public intellectuals that you paid to join you in this high rhetoric feel about their relationship to you now. Hey, it could be the topic of your next series: 'Is marriage a civil right?' And you could give snappy headlines to the answers, as you seem to like to do: 'Not in America.' 'Yes, for straight people.' 'Only in months that don't contain the letter R.'

That's my pro bono contribution to an online debate over the question "Does the free market corrode moral character?" being held at the website of the John Templeton Foundation, whose chairman John Templeton Jr. contributed more than $1 million to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign. You can add your two cents as well. (The ostensible longterm goal of the Templeton Foundation, by the way, is to persuade the public that religion and science have something to do with each other, which in my opinion they do not.) (And no, I don't live in California. That part is hypothetical.)