By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, September 24, 2009 ( – University of Notre Dame law professor emeritus Charles Rice has issued an open letter to University president Fr. John Jenkins this week, criticizing the school's attempts at reconstructing a pro-life facade while still refusing to request leniency for the dozens of pro-lifers arrested for protesting the Obama scandal in May.

“As long as you pursue the criminalization of those pro-life witnesses,” wrote Rice, “your newest pro-life statements will be regarded reasonably as a cosmetic covering of the institutional anatomy in the wake of the continuing backlash arising from your conferral of Notre Dame's highest honor on the most relentlessly pro-abortion public official in the world.”

The controversy surrounds the arrest and charge of trespassing imposed on 88 pro-lifers who traveled from across America to peacefully witness against the University's honoring of President Obama, who issued the commencement speech and received an honorary law degree on May 17 of this year. 

Individuals carrying pro-life messages – including images of aborted children, a large cross, and images of Mary – were singled out for arrest, while several other trespassers with pro-Obama or pro-Notre Dame signage were not arrested.

Dr. Rice criticized Jenkins' Chief of Staff Frances Shavers' claim that the protesters were simply arrested for trespassing as disingenuous. 

“Those 88 defendants were on the other side of the campus, far removed from the site of the Commencement,” Rice wrote.  “They are subjected by Notre Dame to the criminal process because they came, as individuals, to Notre Dame to pray, peacefully and non-obstructively, on this ordinarily open campus, in petition and reparation, as a response to what they rightly saw as a facilitation by Notre Dame of various objectively evil policies and programs of Notre Dame's honoree, President Obama.”

Rice also pointed out that while Notre Dame does not have direct control of prosecution under St. Joseph County, “it is only because of the actions of Notre Dame that they are treated by the law as criminals in the first place.”  Thus, he said, “Notre Dame ought to state publicly that it has no interest in seeing those prosecutions proceed in any form and that it requests the prosecutor to exercise his discretion to dismiss all those charges unconditionally.”

As an example of the injustice on the Notre Dame campus that day, the law scholar pointed to the arrest of Fr. Norman Weslin of the Lambs of Christ, whose treatment by Notre Dame he called “a despicable disgrace, the responsibility for which falls directly and personally upon yourself [Fr. Jenkins] as the President of Notre Dame.”  Weslin's arrest has been widely broadcast on Youtube as a symbol of Notre Dame's abusive treatment of the pro-life presence on campus.  Weslin later asked that Fr. Jenkins meet with the arrestees, but Jenkins ignored the request.

“The theme of Notre Dame's honoring of Obama was 'dialogue,'” wrote Rice.  “It would have been better for you and the complicit Fellows and Trustees to dialogue with Fr. Weslin rather than lock him up as a criminal. You all could have learned something from him.”

Rice said that the school's obligation to ask for leniency “has nothing to do with one's opinion of the tactics of rescue at abortuaries. It is simply a matter of you, as President, doing the manifestly right thing.”

In the meantime, he said, Fr. Jenkins' attempt at rehabilitating the school's pro-life identity – by establishing a new Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life, and by attending the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., – would ring hollow while the Notre Dame 88 continue to face persecution for their witness.

“It would be a mockery for you to present yourself now at the March, even at the invitation of Notre Dame students, as a pro-life advocate while, in practical effect, you continue to be the jailer, as common criminals, of those persons who were authentic pro-life witnesses at Notre Dame,” wrote Rice.

“If you appear at the March as the continuing criminalizer of those pro-life witnesses, you predictably will earn not approbation but scorn – a scorn which will surely be directed toward Notre Dame as well.”

Click here to learn more about the campaign to help the “Notre Dame 88.” 

See related coverage:

88 Pro-Lifers Arrested at Notre Dame Still Facing Jail Time: Thomas More Lawyer Again Asks Fr. Jenkins for Leniency 

ND Prez Jenkins Has “No Interest” in Asking for Leniency for ND Protesters Despite Calls for “Dialogue”