By Kathleen Gilbert
SOUTH BEND, Indiana, September 4, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The president of a pro-life public interest law firm has issued an open letter to University of Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, insisting that the school seek to drop the charges against 88 pro-lifers who await sentencing of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine for protesting the school's honoring pro-abortion President Obama last May.
"[Notre Dame] should honor all who dare to speak out for the dignity of all human beings - born or unborn, wanted or unwanted, humble or exalted - not prosecute them!" wrote Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center president Thomas Brejcha.
On May 17, at least 90 individuals protesting President Obama's presence and honorary law degree were arrested for trespassing on Notre Dame's campus. While witnesses say pro-Obama protesters were allowed to roam free, the arrested individuals were singled out for displaying any pro-life message - including slogans on the sanctity of life, photographs of aborted children, a large wooden cross, and images of Mary.
While the St. Joseph County prosecutor is now in charge of the proceedings, the school still has a prerogative, as the original complainant, to seek that the charges be dropped. Yet president Jenkins have repeatedly refused to seek such leniency or even answer the pro-lifers' requests for dialogue.
"The general council's office of Notre Dame has responded to me by saying that Fr. Jenkins has no interest in discussing these matters any further," pro-life attorney Tom Dixon, who is also supporting the pro-lifers, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) in June.
Having joined the case in June, Brejcha is also preparing to launch a new website, FreeTheND88.org, dedicated to calling attention to the continued prosecution of the pro-life individuals.
In his letter to president Jenkins, Brejcha notes that among the arrestees were Norma McCorvey, the 'Jane Roe' of Roe v. Wade, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, Motherhood Interrupted author Jane Brennan, author, and Denver pro-life activist Laura Rohling. He said it was "shocking" that the charges were not quickly dropped, as all the pro-lifers had already spent various amounts of time in jail.
"Surely that protracted detention and the humbling impact of a public arrest on trying to enter the campus of America's premier Catholic university was enough of a penalty to offset whatever 'injury' or 'insult' these good people inflicted on Notre Dame's property rights," said Brejcha.
Even worse, said the lawyer, is the fact that the protesters were compelled to return to South Bend to enter "not guilty" pleas, and again at a later date to demand jury trials - although Brejcha said the prosecutor has "backed off" the latter demand. Protesters originally traveled from as far as New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, and Texas to protest the Notre Dame scandal.
Brejcha said he was "yet more deeply aggrieved on hearing, Fr. Jenkins, that you had responded to a request that the charges be dropped by claiming that 'it is out of [your] hands.'
"With respect, Father, the future of these cases - if they must go on - is squarely in your hands," he said. "Notre Dame is the complainant. Its security personnel directed and/or conducted the arrests, pointing out those who would be arrested (pro-lifers) and those who would not (those carrying pro-Obama signs and/or taunting the pro-lifers)."
Brejcha noted that, in the Society's long legal battle against the National Organization for Women that ended in the Supreme Court, Notre Dame's then-president Fr. Ted Hesburgh and other Notre Dame affiliates helped with the case.
"Now the 'Notre Dame 88' have asked us to take the lead in their defense," said Brejcha. "Not to spite Notre Dame but because we love it, we have agreed. America's civil rights movement is ongoing, and the pro-life movement is its next phase.
"Notre Dame should not only support this new civil rights movement but lead it. It should honor all who dare to speak out for the dignity of all human beings - born or unborn, wanted or unwanted, humble or exalted - not prosecute them!"
Click here for the full text of Brejcha's letter.
To contact University of Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins:
Office of the President
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556
Guidelines for composing effective communicatons here.
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