Pro-choice Christian group fires back at Obama protesters
Rachel Oswald
Published: Friday March 27, 2009

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While the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame University have been trending secular for several decades now, a group of anti-abortion activists are hoping to reverse that movement away from Catholic orthodoxy.

Outraged that the university will be hosting President Obama as its commencement speaker this spring, a number of religious pro-life groups are attempting to scuttle the president’s appearance at the Notre Dame through online petition drives.

Pro-choice Christian religious groups are not happy with the drives, though. In a statement to RAW STORY, the Rev. Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said, “It’s unacceptable that so-called pro-life groups should try to set the agenda for a noble academic institution.”

Veazey noted, “Our nation was founded on religious tolerance and the separation of church and state. People of all faiths and no faith are citizens of this country. The protest over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame because of his views on abortion and stem cell research shows a weak understanding of the nature of our democracy and an intolerance for diverse viewpoints.”

The Cardinal Newman Society and were claiming more than 156,000 signatures in support of their petition as of Thursday morning (that figure could not be independently verified).

Their petition to Notre Dame University President Fr. John Jenkins states, “Notre Dame has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality. Whatever may be President Obama’s admirable qualities, this honor comes on the heels of some of the most anti-life actions of any American president, including expanding federal funding for abortions and inviting taxpayer-funded research on stem cells from human embryos.”

Terry Randall, the anti-abortion activist who founded Operation Rescue has also joined in the action with his own petition, which asks visitors to decide who is worse – Obama or Herod, who is known in the New Testament for his role in the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

Jenkins defended the decision to have Obama speak at the school’s graduation in a recent interview with the Notre Dame college newspaper, The Observer.

"The invitation of President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research," Jenkins said. "We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope . . . for this to be the basis of an engagement with him.”

Veazey of the RCRC said he agrees with Jenkin’s stance. “His comment that the invitation does not imply condoning of specific positions affirms the vision of the United States as a place where people of all backgrounds and points of view can live together peacefully. We may never agree on the issue of whether abortion should be legal but Rev Jenkins had it right when he said, ‘we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement.’”

Writing on the situation for U.S. News & World Report, Dan Gilgoff notes, “It's striking that the protest is spearheaded by grass-roots Catholics, as opposed to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It's in-the-pews conservatives who are pressuring U.S. bishops to speak out against an alleged injustice; typically, it's the other way around, with bishops imploring their flock to action.”

Thomas Reese, in his blog, “This Catholic’s View,” for The Washington Post writes, “People need to recognize that Catholic universities have to be places where freedom of speech and discussion is recognized and valued. Not to allow a diversity of speakers on campus is to put Catholic universities into a ghetto.”

A number of conservative campus student groups have also joined in protesting President Obama’s commencement address. They are: Notre Dame Right to Life, The Irish Rover Student Newspaper, Notre Dame College Republicans, The University of Notre Dame Anscombe Society, Notre Dame Identity Project, Militia of the Immaculata, Children of Mary, Orestes Brownson Council, Notre Dame Law School Right to Life, Notre Dame Law St Thomas More Society and The Federalist Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Notre Dame Senior Andrew Nesi took an overview of the situation in a column for The Observer, where he pleaded for cooler heads to prevail.

“Contrary to a number of the letters we've seen on these pages in the last few days, we shouldn't be ‘embarrassed’ by the presence of a pro-choice politician on our graduation stage, nor should we be ‘embarrassed’ by the calls to keep a pro-choice politician off our stage,” Nesi wrote. “We shouldn't view protesters as ‘hijacking’ our graduation. Yes, I want protesters yelling at me on the day of my graduation, showing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, because Notre Dame has taught me that to avoid debate - as visceral as it may be - is to lack strength in my own convictions.”

Correction: This article has been changed to fix an incorrect reference to the Old Testament. It now refers to the New Testament.

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