So, President Obama is getting an honorary degree and giving a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, and some folks aren’t too happy about that. Why? The stated reasons is his support of limited abortion rights. Let’s examine why this stance is hypocritical and nonsensical, then examine the real reasons for the protests.
Beliefs of a speaker
Notre Dame has a reputation as a good university, and I’m quite certain that classes on campus include ideas not part of official Catholic belief. I’m willing to bet that not every student, professor, and employee hold to every letter of Catholic doctrine. Still, one could argue that honoring a commencement speaker is a larger act than allowing a professor to teach and research (although I’d disagree with that, too).
So Obama holds an opinion about an important issue that is different that the opinion of the Church. So what? Has every speaker held to the NIcene Creed? That’s some pretty important stuff there. Must a speaker hold to all Catholic beliefs? If not, which ones must the believe?
After all, if “life” is the primary test here, then Bush and Reagan should have been turned away for their support of the death penalty and of war. Or are some lives more important that others?
Purpose of a speaker
Is the purpose of a commencement speaker to support all the beliefs of the school’s sponsoring faith? Well, that would rule out many Catholics, so clearly the purpose of the degree and the speaker is not to come as a pure cheerleader for the Faith. Perhaps the purpose is to invite a prominent, successful person, and hear their views, their story. Obama is certainly a good speaker and a successful person. Seems like a good choice.
Content of speech
I’m sure that the university doesn’t limit what a speaker can say—that would be antithetical to the purpose of a university. So they are of course taking a risk when they invite a speaker. But does anyone really think President Obama is going to choose the one issue on which he and the Church most disagree and speak about it? And if he did, is the faith of the students so weak that one speaker could eradicate four years of education?
What is the meaning of a degree from ND, honorary or otherwise? Does it mean that in addition to your successful education you agree with the Vatican on every single letter of doctrine?
Motivation of protesters
We should take at their word protesters who say they feel Obama’s abortion beliefs, and his ability to influence policy make him a poor choice. It’s clearly hypocritical and narrow, but why would they lie?
But are they recognizing all of their motivations? After all, plenty of other influential speakers have had no trouble coming to Notre Dame. Protesting a president’s policies is a good thing. It’s a sign of a healthy democracy. But what does it mean to try to deny him a platform based on a single issue, while offering that platform to people like Bush with similarly “offensive” views?
Protesters say that Obama’s principles are strongly opposed to Catholic beliefs. Oh, really? Besides abortion, which beliefs would those be?
I know that my more conservative friends will think this is ridiculous, but Obama represents something fundamentally different than the Bushes and Reagans. If Obama were coming to the University to give a speech on abortion rights, this would be problematic (although not that problematic). But every president in the last 50 years has been invited to speak at ND without a litmus test. What makes Obama different?
To state the obvious, he is Black, has a Muslim middle name, and is liberal. He is different, and here in the Midwest, he makes many people uncomfortable.
As this presidency continues, I hope we will get past this and focus on real policy disagreements rather than fake issues. There are real problems in this country, affecting real people, and there are real disagreements on how to fix things. Let’s go there.