Catholic school defends importance of pro-life assembly boycotted by students

Empty College Classroom Credit Ryan Tyler Smith via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 2 4 15 Ryan Tyler Smith via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Students at a Catholic high school in San Francisco staged a walkout last month to protest an all-school assembly which featured a pro-life speaker.

Despite the students’ actions, the school’s president defended the talk as “an opportunity to come together in order to learn more about the dignity of human life.”

Archbishop Riordan High School, which is administered by the Society of Mary, hosted an all-school assembly Oct. 22 featuring pro-life speaker Megan Almon.

Almon tours the country with the Life Training Institute, a Christian pro-life organization whose talks aim to “empower others with the knowledge and conviction necessary to make a case for life that changes hearts and minds.”

According to an account of the incident by the San Francisco Chronicle, students began to exit the auditorium and file into an adjacent gym about “five minutes” into the presentation, leaving “a few dozen of the school’s more than 800 students” in the auditorium for the entire talk.

The walkout has since gained media attention after a video of the walkout went viral, with several hundred thousand views on TikTok.

“My school tried to hold a pro-life assembly,” on-screen text on the video of a throng of masked students reads, “So we walked out.”

The Chronicle interviewed several students who identified themselves as pro-choice and found the pro-life talk “frustrating,” especially, they said, Almon’s comparison of the number of babies killed in abortions to the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Tim Reardon, the school’s interim president, told CNA in an email that he has since received “many notes from those in the community who appreciate that we are providing the Catholic position [on] this highly polarizing topic.”

“Many of the parents sent their kids to Catholic school so that the kids could learn about Catholic social teaching. To avoid these topics would be a failure to serve these individuals,” Reardon wrote in the email to CNA.

One student interviewed by the Chronicle, who stayed for the presentation but asked not to be identified, said she was “happy to hear a perspective that she does not often get in her social circles.”

Riordan High School became a coed institution beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, after previously being an all-boys school.

According to the Chronicle, the school wrote in an email to parents preceding the talk: “The administration is aware that not all Riordan students are Catholic. We understand that we live in a society in which people have strong, disparate opinions about all the categories ascribed to this theme… Our speaker will be here simply to explain the Catholic position, primarily with regard to abortion. We ask that all students listen respectfully to the speaker, who is nationally recognized for her work on this subject.”

Reardon, the school president, told CNA that he sent a video message to the students Oct. 25 “emphasizing the importance of listening to and considering both sides of important issues.”

Catholic teaching on abortion is presented in the school’s Religious Studies curriculum, Reardon said, “so there has been further discussion in the classrooms.”

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