Mike Pence honored faith, family, and freedom at Notre Dame graduation
NOTRE DAME, Indiana, May 22, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Vice President Mike Pence focused on faith and freedom of speech in Sunday’s commencement address at Notre Dame, even as some students followed through with a planned walkout to protest his appearance.
He told the crowd that even though he has been a governor and is now vice president of the United States, “the most important job I will ever hold is that of husband and father.”
Pence spoke of religious liberty and the unalienable right to life during his speech, drawing parallels between Notre Dame and the Trump administration on those issues.
The university broke with a decades-old tradition to invite the vice president in place of Trump.
Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins had ironically said he wanted to avoid a “political circus” caused by the 2009 invite of then-President Barack Obama.
The Obama invite had caused considerable consternation among pro-life and family advocates, given the former president’s stances, yet Father Jenkins remained fixed in the choice years after the controversy.
But the Pence invitation drew ire for Pence’s purported opposition to LGBT rights, as well as stances on immigration.
The student group had said ahead of time it would walk out because policies advocated by Pence contradict Catholic social teaching and values and target vulnerable members of the university community.
Notre Dame officials were aware of the plans and said they wouldn’t stop it, citing the group’s stated plan to walk out “in a respectful manner.”
Even as Pence was keynote for the commencement in place of Trump, he lauded Notre Dame as “a vanguard of the freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas at a time, sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America.”
Roughly 100 of 2,100 graduating students walked out as he took the stage. However, students and parents booed them as they did so.
Pence did not acknowledge the protest and simply stayed on message.
He told the crowd that while Notre Dame had maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, “far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe spaces, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness, all of which amounts to the suppression of free speech.”
And he urged the new graduates to “be leaders for the freedoms of thought and expression.”
And Pence took the opportunity to praise his boss.
He said, “The greatest honor of my life is to serve as the vice president to the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump,” and was roundly applauded.
Pence went on to praise the recent religious liberty executive order signed by Trump, saying the “president just took steps to ensure that this university and the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to violate their consciences to fully participate in American civic life.”
He referenced Trump’s speech that same day in Saudi Arabia to leaders of 50 Arab and Muslim countries in which Trump denounced religious persecution of people of all faiths.
The vice president then continued, “And where this president has stood for the unalienable right to life at home and abroad I’m so proud that the University of Notre Dame has stood without apology for the sanctity of human life,” also garnering applause.
Pence, who was raised in the Catholic faith but converted to evangelical Christianity, has said he is “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
He is part of a weekly Bible study with eight other Trump cabinet members.
Pence made history when he spoke before the March for Life rally this past January, the first sitting vice president to do so.
He was the target of ridicule in March when it was learned that he and his wife take specific steps to not place themselves in situations with others of the opposite sex that could put their marriage at risk.
The head of a Notre Dame alumni group centered on preserving the university’s Catholic identity told LifeSiteNews, “The speech was first class,” and the vice president was “warm and generous, and radiated good will.”
“And I was happily surprised by the considerable applause,” Sycamore Trust President Bill Dempsey said.
“It is passing strange to see Notre Dame students objecting to Vice President Pence because he joins the Catholic Church in its position on gay marriage and religious liberty,” Dempsey said.
He was joined in this thought by author, blogger and Maryland pastor Father Kevin Cusick,
Tragic sign of the times that protests of Mike Pence at @NotreDame based on areas where he agrees with Catholic teaching on life & marriage.— Father Kevin Cusick (@MCITLFrAphorism) May 21, 2017
Notre Dame parent Nataline Duffy said in a report from Religion News Service that she and her husband found the student walkout to be “in poor taste” and “disrespectful.”
“I don’t think they represent Notre Dame at all,” Duffy said.
Dempsey pointed out how the university giving in to pressure against having Trump speak demonstrated how free speech in this case did not extend to the president.
“If the university is usually open for free speech business,” Dempsey said, “it was not for the president of the United States.”
He continued that the walkout had received fairly wide media coverage "but was without any significant impact.”