An Indiana prosecutor has dropped charges against almost all of the “ND88” pro-life demonstrators arrested for protesting President Barack Obama’s 2009 commencement appearance at the University of Notre Dame.
St. Joseph County prosecutor Michael Dvorak dropped the criminal trespass charges as part of an agreement between the Chicago-based Thomas More Society and the university.
“This is a big step forward and a victory for the pro-life cause,” said Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel.
Though the long controversy had generated bitter feelings, each side emphasized the need to reconcile.
Notre Dame president Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. said he was “sincerely pleased” that the charges have been dismissed.
“From the start, everyone involved in this difficult matter has been in complete accord on the sanctity of human life, and we all remain committed to continuing our work to support life from conception to natural death,” he said.
Brejcha voiced appreciation for the steps Notre Dame has taken to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion. He noted Fr. Jenkins’ participation in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and 2011.
“Those who share pro-life convictions may differ on tactics and approaches, but they best serve their sacred cause when they work together to secure the common good for all human beings, born and unborn alike, rather than carrying on as courtroom antagonists,” Brejcha said.
The Thomas More Society said both parties remain in “profound disagreement” over the commencement but they have decided to “put their differences behind them” and affirm their agreement on pro-life issues.
Both parties have pledged “not to rehash the events of the past” but to recognize each other’s pro-life efforts and to work together to maximize their impact on the “contentious” debate over abortion.
At the time of the protests, opponents of President Obama’s commencement speech and honorary degree cited his support for abortion and the Catholic bishops’ instructions against honoring political leaders who support abortion.
Many were arrested on campus at the time of the commencement. The 94 arrestees included Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and Obama’s Illinois U.S. Senate race opponent Alan Keyes.
Demonstrators engaged in prayer and held pro-life signs. Their defenders said Notre Dame engaged in discriminatory treatment by allowing demonstrators supportive of Obama on campus. They also said that participants in past unauthorized protests, including pro-homosexual rights and anti-ROTC demonstrations, were not treated as harshly.
The Sycamore Trust, a Notre Dame alumni group dedicated to supporting the university’s Catholic identity, said it would have been “far better” had the university dropped the case two years ago.
“There is no way now for the University to erase the damage these prosecutions have caused to its pro-life standing through the drumbeat of criticism from pro-life forces,” it said May 5.
The organization noted that the dropping of charges took place in the context of an agreement not to sue for damages. However, it still praised the move as “a very welcome development.”