Monday, May 18, 2009

POTUS Under Fire

May 18, 2009

"Abortion is murder," one protester screamed.

"That's all right," Obama said as the crowd booed.

"You are a baby killer,"

Notre Dame’s invitation for President Barack Obama to deliver this year’s commencement address stirred up a controversy the moment he accepted in March. Some anti-abortion students started a campaign against Obama’s speech, gathering more than 300,000 signatures on an online petition. And anti-abortion groups joined in the fight, with protests on Sunday. But despite the controversy, Obama received a very warm welcome when he entered the Joyce Center at Notre Dame. Some students stood on their chairs. Others snapped photographs. The provost, Thomas Burish, paused three times for students to continue giving Obama applause. Obama waved to the crowd and mouthed, “Thank you.”

Obama, who supports abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research, called for "open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words" in the public debate over the issue, arguing that there was no reason to reduce the other side to caricatures. Even so, the divergent views Obama addressed in his remarks were on display among the 29,000 graduates and family members in the audience at Joyce Center. Some students put the image of a cross and two small feet on their graduation caps to denote their protest. Others anti-abortion students and their parents wore white carnations on their lapels in silent protest of Obama’s presence. And as Obama spoke a few dozen students were holding a separate ceremony in protest.

Nearly 40 people were arrested Sunday as they tried to enter the University of Notre Dame to protest President Barack Obama's appearance at commencement, police said. At least 39 people were taken into custody on trespassing charges, police Sgt. Bill Redman said. Among those arrested was Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff identified as "Roe" in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. She now opposes abortion and joined more than 300 anti-abortion demonstrators at the university's front gate.

Some students who attended the rally carried signs declaring "Shame on Notre Dame" and "Stop Abortion Now." Many wore anti-abortion T-shirts, one of which depicted a leprechaun throwing a baby into a trash can and the words "May 17, 2009, the day the dome was forever tarnished," which referred to the school's famed golden dome. Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, joined the rally and called students "heroes" for expressing their anger over the invitation to Obama. Some have called for the resignation of the Rev. John Jenkins, the university's president.

Three-quarters of Catholics either approve of or offer no opinion on Notre Dame's decision to invite Obama, and the same percentage of U.S. bishops have opted to stay out of the fight. The Vatican has stayed completely silent on the matter. The starkly different responses of some U.S. bishops and the Vatican could just be a matter of pure politics. As Obama's European tour last month showed, the Pope would hardly be the only head of state eager to start off on the right footing with the new Administration. In addition, Obama is broadly popular among American Catholics, 67% of whom gave him a positive approval rating in a recent Pew poll. At a time when the U.S. Catholic Church is losing members - a separate Pew study found that for every American who joins the Catholic Church, four others leave - Benedict may not be willing to test the costs of opposing Obama.

Among those most eager to drive a wedge between the President and rank-and-file Catholics are Catholic Republicans, who worry about losing more voters to the Democratic Party. Newt Gingrich wasn't yet a Catholic when the 2004 statement was debated and approved. But the new convert was the first to speak out against Notre Dame's commencement speaker. On March 24, the Republican former House Speaker weighed in on his Twitter account, which appears to have limits on capital letters: "It is sad to see notre dame invite president obama to give the commencement address since his policies are so anti catholic values." There's nothing like the zeal of a convert, but Gingrich may find it's awkward to try to be more Catholic than the Pope.

Sources: Time Magazine and Yahoo News

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