In May of 2009, President Barack Obama became the ninth U.S. president to have an honorary degree from the university. He spoke amidst controversy over his staunch pro-abortion record.
Then-Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a strong statement saying that Notre Dame "conferred an unnecessary and unearned honorary law degree on a man committed to upholding one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our nation's history [Roe v. Wade]."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic who supported abortion as a U.S. senator and who was in an administration that issued the controversial contraception mandate, received an honorary degree from the university last year.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the local diocese, said the university should not have honored a politician with "gravely irresponsible" positions on abortion and marriage that are at odds with Church teaching.
"We should seek to honor those who act to protect human life and dignity from conception to natural death, who respect true marriage and the family, who promote peace, justice, religious freedom, solidarity, the integral development of the poor, the just treatment of immigrants, and care for creation," he stated last March. "We should not honor those who may be exemplary in one area but gravely irresponsible in another."
In his speech this weekend, Vice President Pence called for the university to continue to foster a free discussion of ideas, as free speech has been curbed in much of academia.
"Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed – where opposing views are debated and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear," he said, adding that the university "is an exception" and is "an island in a sea of conformity."
Many schools have "speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness," he said, which "are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. And they are wholly outside the American tradition."
Pence also exhorted the university's graduates to "have faith."
"Strive every day to lead for good with courage and conviction. Live your life according to the precepts and principles that you have learned and seen here at Notre Dame," he said.
"And in all that you do, have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you – because He never will."
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