The pro-life forces seem determined to make President Obama’s scheduled graduation address at the University of Notre Dame on Sunday as unpleasant an experience as possible and you can bet that if the Secret Service had its way it would bag the appearance.
The president probably should consider that the current level of animosity by anti-abortionists makes his participation in ceremonies on the South Bend campus not just the usual risk. These are passionate people and there is bound to be some potential for violence among the thousands of protestors planning to show up at the campus gates in South Bend. More than 360,000 signed a petition protesting the decision of one of the nation’s leading Catholic institutions to invite him despite his support for stem cell research and Roe v. Wade.
Adding to the concern is the movement’s history of displaying anger that often holds little back, including gruesome photos. Unfortunately, 74 Catholic bishops –including Cardinal Francis George, president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — have inflamed the situation by condemning the university’s invitation.
The university’s administration and most of its student body, including many pro-life supporters, have held fast against the onslaught, obviously believing, probably correctly, that rescinding the invitation to a president of the United States would lower the school’s esteem in academia and among non Catholics.
Some of those leading the protest include Randall Terry, former head of Operation Rescue, and Alan Keyes, a conservative political activist who became the last minute Republican senatorial replacement against Obama in Illinois when the GOP candidate –who was the frontrunner in the race –was forced to drop out because of a scandal. Obama beat him handily.
The political overtones of this have been clear from the beginning. Any doubt about that was erased by the verbal ferocity against the president, Terry was quoted in The Washington Post as saying it was their aim to make the appearance "a political mud pit for Obama. Our mission is to tar him with the blood of the babies so he can never shake it between now and 2012."
How wonderful for young men and women on a day they are graduating from a prestigious university and who should be proud they are stepping into the future with the direct, personal encouragement and blessing of the nation’s top official whether they agree with his every position or not.
A prudent man probably would withdraw to a less threatening atmosphere. Certainly there is good reason to do so.
While that might give the right-to-life forces, which have shown some recent disarray, a unifying boost on the one hand, it also has the potential for doing the same for those Americans who believe interference on religious grounds with a chief executive’s right to make a major graduation speech is disrespectful to the office and damages the basic tenets of academic freedom.
Even a denominational institution as celebrated as Notre Dame should be free of force-fed decisions based on controversial theocratic edicts. Not everyone who goes to Notre Dame is Catholic, after all.
So it seems doubtful that this president in particular would give in to the pressure to cancel the appearance, a move that might set a precedent of capitulation that neither he nor a future president would want to endure.
Wherever one stands on the right-to-life issue, there should be a general concern that those whose beliefs are so strong they can justify any act no matter how atrocious might be present during this important rite of passage for some 2,600 graduates and temper their own plans accordingly.
While even the thought of such a disaster is too hideous to consider for most of us, it is not for those who have to make certain it doesn’t happen, especially when passions run as high as these. The overwhelming majority who oppose abortions are rational, decent people and they should step in here.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)