The Catholic University of America

Oct. 2, 2013

University Announces Partnership with Chinese Human Rights Activist


President Garvey welcomes Chen Guangcheng, far right, to Catholic University.

Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese self-taught civil rights lawyer and human rights activist, announced a new partnership today with three organizations, including The Catholic University of America, to pursue his academic interests and human rights advocacy for the next three years.

During an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Chen revealed to a room full of domestic and international press that he will serve as distinguished visiting fellow of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, senior distinguished fellow in human rights at the Witherspoon Institute (Princeton, N.J.), and senior distinguished advisor focused on Internet freedom and human rights for people with disabilities at the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice (Concord, N.H.).

“Today I’m at a new starting point and I’m very thankful for the support of these three organizations,” Chen said through an interpreter. “They jointly set up a human rights platform from which I’m able to speak up about the facts and realities of the Chinese communist authorities’ violation of human rights, their indescribable brutality, and the threat they pose to humanity. From today forward, no matter what difficulties we encounter, we will stick together and work closely for all mankind; we will make concerted efforts to defend the freedom of the Chinese people and move forward courageously to defend human dignity, and other universal values.”

Chen was joined at the press conference by John Garvey, President of Catholic University; Stephen Schneck, director of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies; Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution of the Witherspoon Institute; and Ambassador Richard Swett, treasurer of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice.

From left: Stephen Schneck, Ambassador Richard Swett, Garvey, Chen, Yuan Weijing (Chen's wife), and Matthew Franck.  

Blind since a young age, Chen grew up in a small Chinese village. He taught himself law and became known as a “barefoot lawyer.” His work exposing human rights abuses in China led to four years in prison, followed by house arrest. Chen escaped house arrest in April 2012, drawing international media attention. He made his way to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and subsequently to the United States in May 2012 when he was offered a visiting fellowship at the law school at New York University.

“As a Catholic institution, we greatly admire Mr. Chen’s bravery in defending basic human rights in China,” said Garvey. “We consider his work as an advocate consonant with the academic mission of a Catholic university. By virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ, we are dedicated to supporting the international struggle for the recognition of human dignity and the protection of basic human rights. We welcome the opportunity to support Mr. Chen in his advocacy.”

Garvey also noted that Chen “provides a model for the kind of courageous commitment to protecting human dignity and advancing human rights that we hope for in our students.” (To read Garvey's remarks, click here.)

“Mr. Chen is one of the leading voices of freedom and justice in China today,” said Franck. “He has proven his courage and fearless devotion to freedom. He is a truth teller. It is our wish that he continue to tell the world the truth” from the platforms provided by the three organizations.

Chen will deliver his first lecture as a fellow at Witherspoon later this month.

“Mr. Chen reminds us of our founder, the late Congressman Tom Lantos, both in the breadth of his human rights leadership and in the fearless way he has taken on critical human rights causes, regardless of the odds,” said Swett.


The Catholic University of America, founded in 1887 by the U.S. Catholic bishops, is the national University of the Catholic Church in the United States. Established as a graduate research center, the University began offering undergraduate education in 1904 and today is home to 12 schools. The University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies is a community of scholars and researchers engaged in the analysis of public policy issues related to Catholic social thought. Organized in 1974 under its former name, the Life Cycle Institute, this academic think tank taps the knowledge and experience of the 40 renowned researchers, scholars, and policy experts who are its fellows. The institute has sponsored and organized research, analyzed public policy, published national studies, worked closely with lawmakers and policymakers, promoted and developed its own cadre of students and young researchers, and offered hundreds of symposia, conferences, debates, and lectures for academia and the American public square.

The Witherspoon Institute is an independent research center that works to enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free and democratic societies. The Institute promotes the application of fundamental principles of republican government and ordered liberty to contemporary problems through a variety of research and educational ventures. The Witherspoon Institute carries out its educational mission through the scholarly work of the Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution and the Center on Ethics and the University. These two centers provide opportunities to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students to examine the moral foundations of political, philosophical, and social thought and to assist leading scholars in performing rigorous scholarship, often from an interdisciplinary perspective.

The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice was established to perpetuate former Congressman Tom Lantos' legacy as a champion for human rights by carrying, in his words, "the noble banner of human rights to every corner of the world." Throughout his tenure in Congress, Lantos was the leading advocate for human rights, calling attention to thousands of individual cases of torture, denial of rights, and abuse. The foundation’s mission is to strengthen the role of human rights in American foreign policy and to be a vital voice standing up for our nation's most important values of decency, dignity, freedom, and justice in every corner of the world.

MEDIA: For more information, contact Mary McCarthy or Katie Lee at The Catholic University of America at 202-319-5600.



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