Warnock Keeps Graduate Thesis Under Wraps at Library

Paper could shed light on Warnock's ideological background

Rev. Raphael Warnock
Senate candidate Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) / Getty Images
December 3, 2020

Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock has declined to authorize the release of his divinity school graduate thesis, which is under wraps at the Union Theological Seminary library due to copyright restrictions.

Warnock wrote the thesis, titled Churchmen, Church Martyrs: The Activist Ecclesiologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1994 while he was a graduate student at the Union Theological Seminary. The paper is a precursor to Warnock's 2006 Ph.D. dissertation, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The dissertation is also housed at the seminary library and under copyright.

The graduate thesis, which discusses Christianity's responsibility to pursue social justice, could shed light on Warnock's ideological background. The Senate candidate, a preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, has come under fire for his defense of socialism, criticism of Israel, and praise of an anti-American speech by Jeremiah Wright.

Warnock's association with the late theologian James Cone, whom the Senate candidate described as his mentor, has also drawn scrutiny because of Cone's controversial comments about race and religion. Cone, one of the founders of black liberation theology, advocated for the "destruction of everything white" and claimed that "American white theology is a theology of the Antichrist."

The Burke Library in New York, where the thesis is held, said it wasn't able to provide a full copy of Warnock's dissertation "because it is still in copyright." However, the library released a small portion of the paper to the Free Beacon.

Warnock holds the copyright, according to the library. The Warnock campaign did not respond to an inquiry from the Free Beacon about whether he would approve access to the thesis.

In the 5-page excerpt of the 42-page paper that the library provided to the Free Beacon, Warnock criticized the "moral ineptitude and bourgeoisification of church in America today" and called for a greater commitment to fighting for social justice.

John Bergmayer, the legal director at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group that advocates for greater access to intellectual property, said that copyright laws should not affect whether a library allows people to read copyrighted works—but that they could affect whether a library provides paper or digital copies of these materials. Because many libraries, including the Burke Library, are closed to non-student researchers due to the coronavirus pandemic, this situation can create complications for access, according to Bergmayer.

"Everything that a library has is subject to copyright," he said. "That it is under copyright does not really affect whether or not they can give you access to [read] it."

Bergmayer said libraries can provide copies under a "Fair Use" exception in many cases, but whether or not a request falls under this category is often unclear unless or until the use is challenged in court by the copyright holder.

"Different libraries have a different risk tolerance," he said. "The problem with Fair Use is it's really hard to say definitively one way or the other until it's litigated."

Published under: Raphael Warnock