ND student groups reject Obama invitation, launch Red Letter campaign


Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama is "in opposition to what lies at the foundation of this University," says ND Response, a consortium of 11 different student groups.

According to a statement released by the group yesterday, its members received word of the commencement speech invitation to President Obama with "deepest opposition."

ND Response, which includes groups as diverse as Notre Dame Law’s St Thomas More Society and Notre Dame’s Right to Life group, claimed opposition based upon "President Obama’s hostility to the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages" further saying that Obama’s early pro-abortion decisions will "directly result in the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings."

ND Response spokesman, Chris Labadie, a senior majoring in theology, told CNA on Thursday that the group was inundated with emails and calls over the weekend seeking some type of response. Instead of answering requests individually, the leaders of the 11 groups came together to create a unified response.

This morning, former America Magazine Editor Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J. launched an op-ed in the Washington Post supporting Notre Dame’s decision and rebuffing groups like ND Response saying, "Controversy over commencement speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips."

Reese’s argument was presented in five bullet points:

  • In his personal life, Obama has never acted in defiance of the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.
  • Publicly, Obama has never spoken out against the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.
  • He supports legal restrictions on third trimester abortions with a health-of-the-mother exemption.
  • Although he does not believe that other abortions can be made illegal, he supports programs to reduce the number of abortions.
  • Notre Dame is not honoring Obama because of his views on abortion but because he is President of the United States, as has been made clear by the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president.

Replying to critics like Reese, ND Response acknowledged that "some of President Obama’s policies and programs may have an effect" on reducing abortions, but that other policies have a "direct effect" on destroying life.

Both Reese and Jenkins claim Obama can be honored because he is the President and not because of his stance on abortion, but ND Response offered a pointed rebuke:

"University President, Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. has indicated in his statements that this honor is being given to President Obama because of his leadership role. By honoring the President with a Doctor of Laws degree honoris causa, Fr. Jenkins is honoring his work with the law. We feel this means we would honor the policies that President Obama has advocated for as a lawyer and Senator as well as put into action as President. If his policies are inconsistent with the core values and tenets of a Catholic institution then we feel this is an inappropriate use of the honoris causa degree."

At the conclusion of his article, Reese recited the rationale frequently invoked for inviting speakers who dissent from Church teachings to give a speech. "If Catholic universities are afraid to have people on campus who challenge our views, then we are not training students to listen and think critically. We are admitting that our arguments are not convincing," Reese wrote.

ND Response disagrees with Reese, saying that a "commencement address is not the correct arena for an intellectual debate" since students "will not be able to engage the President in an intellectual setting."

The consortium of student groups is planning to express their opposition by launching a Red Letter campaign, in which empty letters representing a child who was murdered through abortion are given to President Obama on commencement day. ND Response has formally asked Jenkins to deliver the empty Red Letters to Obama, but no response from the University had been received as of Thursday afternoon.

Chris Labadie told CNA that the groups’ message to the university and President Obama is: "We recognize the great honor it is that the President of the United States is coming to our university. But we must stand firm in our convictions as Catholics, there is a substantial amount of students and faculty who strongly support the Catholic mission and identity of the University, who believe in it and who believe that it is still worth fighting for. ND Response is working with many internal groups in order to present a unified front; at the same time we are open to collaboration or cooperation with concerned external groups."

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