Online petitioners are demanding that a local Catholic school teacher be removed from the classroom for what they call "racist and sexist hate speech."
The petition, which has garnered more than 2,500 signatures (and counting) over the past couple of days, alleges that an instructor at Phoenix's Xavier College Preparatory, a private Roman Catholic high school for girls, distributed anti-abortion propaganda in class that makes inflammatory claims about abortion and African-Americans.
A photo of the flier in question accompanies the petition. It features a skull-and-crossbones emblem, and the words "Black Genocide," along with racially tinged statistics about black women and abortion.
"Maybe the Klan Didn't Invent Abortion," the pamphlet reads in part. "[B]ut you have to believe they are pretty happy with the results."
The tract also claims that "According to BlackGenocide...more black children are killed today by abortion than are born," and "every day about 1400 black babies are killed by legalized abortion."
(There is, in fact, a website named blackgenocide.org, which was created by an African-American pastor in New Jersey and espouses some of the same arguments as the literature in the photo.)
Peg Perl, an alumna of the 73-year-old institution and an attorney for nonprofit watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, tells New Times she learned of the flier through her online network of Xavier grads.
Perl says a daughter of a fellow alumna, who is a student at Xavier, brought the handout home from school last week, explaining that it had been distributed by one of her teachers. Unsure how to handle it, her friend was venting online to their private group.
Some in the group who are local to Phoenix were afraid to speak out because their children attend Xavier, Perl says. That gave her the idea for a petition.
"This is not just about Planned Parenthood or an abortion issue," Perl explains. "I think it's generally about the racist and sexist overtones of what [this teacher] is doing, in a position of authority and in an academic setting."
Her petition alleges that Gavin Ahern, who teaches theology at the academy, distributed the literature in question. It alleges other incidents of Ahern's "misogynistic rhetoric" and calls on Xavier to "remove Mr. Ahern from the classroom immediately and take whatever steps are necessary to permanently remove him from the Xavier community."
Several calls by New Times to administrators at Xavier were not returned on Tuesday. Reached for comment, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix said he was unfamiliar with the petition or the allegations against Ahern.
New Times attempted to speak with Ahern at his home in North Phoenix about the petition and the "Black Genocide" literature. He accepted a business card but declined to answer questions.
"I'm not going to comment," he said.
On Xavier's site, Ahern is listed as the "moderator" for the Right to Life Club and other student groups. His LinkedIn page states that he has taught theology at Xavier since August 2002 and also works as a sales rep for a specialty advertising company.
The arguments promulgated in the flier Ahern allegedly distributed have been around for decades, according to a Washington Post article from last year, which addressed similar comments espoused by then-Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson.
Post fact checkers found that while Carson's claim hinged on whether "one considers an abortion to be a death," it contained a "kernel of truth": specifically, that black women and, for that matter, Latinas, "underwent more abortions in 2011 — the most recent year for which data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available — than the number of people who died as a result of each group's respective primary cause of death."
The Post article notes further that "[r]esearchers at the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights think tank, have identified poverty, health insurance coverage rates, and inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent contraception access and use as three primary causes of elevated abortion rates among black and Latina women."
Of course, those aren't the sort of facts included in your average anti-abortion tract.
Xavier was founded in 1943 by Saint Francis Xavier Parish and has an enrollment of about 1,200. Alumnae include Meghan McCain, former Arizona secretary of state Betsey Bayless, and Saturday Night Live cast member Aidy Bryant. Its website boasts that 100 percent of Xavier graduates go on to college.
Though the Roman Catholic Church is zealously pro-life, Perl thinks distributing the literature does not befit her alma mater.
"Single-sex education is supposed to be empowering for women," says Perl, adding that the anti-abortion tract "is not in keeping at all with the goals and mission of the school, and the education of young women."
Update 05/12/2016: Xavier spokeswoman Erin Alaimo issued the following statement below on behalf of the school:
From Xavier College Preparatory:
Xavier College Preparatory is a Roman Catholic educational institution, fully committed to a belief in God according to the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. That faith forms the very foundation of the mission: “to prepare young women with the knowledge, skills, and integrity to meet the challenges of a changing global society in a positive and productive manner.” Without our commitment to our faith, we cannot hope to achieve this vital Catholic mission.
As an educational institution, Xavier recognizes that certain issues may be the subject of vigorous intellectual, spiritual, and moral debate. We encourage our faculty and students to explore these often controversial issues, and to participate in this healthy and constructive process as Xavier strives to educate students not only academically, but also spiritually and morally within the context of our faith.
Among the most important, most fundamental spiritual and moral truths that Xavier imparts to its students is respect for the sanctity of human life, in all forms and at all stages. We teach our students to care for human life, to defend human life, and to speak out about the sanctity of every human life wherever it is threatened, from the first moment of conception until natural death.
We acknowledge the emotions that discussion on such matters can often evoke, and recognize that disagreements may result, even among members of the Xavier community. Nevertheless, Xavier will not allow the threat of controversy to intimidate our teachers, counselors, and administrators from discussing these important controversial issues, nor silence us in our duty to impart the values of our faith to the young women entrusted to our care.
[Editor's note 5/17/16: For a followup to this story, see "Xavier College Prep's 'Black Genocide' Brouhaha Now Features Dueling Petitions"]