May 16th, 2009
03:15 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama's Notre Dame speech backlash

(CNN) – University of Notre Dame senior Emily Toates, like many in the Catholic faith, is angry over her school's decision to give President Obama an honorary degree at this weekend's commencement.

She's doing something about it: skipping the event.

"I do not feel comfortable going and celebrating him as the university hands him an honorary degree - in a sense honoring his policies," Toates said.

On Sunday, Obama will become one of many sitting U.S. presidents to deliver the commencement address at the Catholic institution. The honor comes much to the chagrin of anti-abortion groups and Catholics protesting the president's pro-choice, pro-stem cell research views.

ND Response, an anti-abortion student group that Toates is working with, will boycott the graduation ceremony in protest. Other anti-abortion groups have started petitions against Obama's appearance and have plans to protest his visit to the South Bend, Indiana, campus.

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Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. Andi

    interesting that white Presidents who were 'pro-choice' spoke at ND without incident

    May 16, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  2. Fred Zackel

    Let's ask Ms. Toates how much she sold her family's graduation tickets for. Oh, and if she majored in Media. (Hey, a girl needs a job, right?) And if her family has always voted Republican. Uh-huh.

    May 16, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  3. Jack Jodell, Minneapolis, MN

    This is utterly ridiculous. Notre Dame has had MANY other pro-choice commencement speakers before. This is America, isn't it?

    May 16, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  4. Steve

    My lord. Is this woman going to resign from America? Perhaps move to the country of Texas? We live in a diverse culture, and while she may not agree with Obama on the issue of abortion this is seeming more and more like a racist attack by the University. I'm sad for my country when I see that there is zero tolerance by many for any kind of difference from their skewed and narrow view of the world. Hopefully Ms. Toates will find a place, job, life where everyone agrees with her view of the world and how things are and ought to be. Of course she's free to have and express her opinion, but it seems as if she and the others like her are going to have a very narrow life. Plus, I thought that the followers of Jesus are to love and accept their neighbor, even if they disagree.

    May 16, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  5. matt

    but she would have gladly sat and watched her school give a degree to Bush right? Gotta love conservatives :)

    May 16, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  6. Mike

    Well I can understand that, at least she is willing to not attend the ceremony and disrupt it for others. I do feel that it is unfortunate that these single issue people cannot get past their personal views to accept the honor of the President of the United States. Even if you do not like the person, the office should be respected. The real question I have is this, how can someone graduate for a modern university with such medieval views? She may not like abortion, as many do not. But the solution is simple: If you don't like abortion; don't have one." What this really is about is that in your face arrogant group of people who have gone beyond trying to "convert" people to the point where they would like to bring back Inquisition Courts. Convert or else. Its my way or no way. Well, I am sorry this is the arrogance the rest of the country has seen from the religious right for the last 30 years and we are tired of it.

    May 16, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  7. Richie

    One has to wonder what sort of tolerance and academic freedom is being taught at Notre Dame. How sad that anyone would childishly refuse to attend their own graduation because the distinguished speaker does not agree with them.

    May 16, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  8. Chris W

    I think this whole thing is absurd. Yes, people have a right to protest, blah blah blah...but this is like apples and oranges or whatever. Maybe Notre Dame should simply expel all their pro-life students, and immediately refund their tuition...same for former Notre Dames students. Suppose the Fighting Irish got some really awesome football coach that restored them to their former glory...would anybody care a flip if he was pro-life or pro-choice? Geeez...what a non-issue...

    May 16, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  9. ran

    This is the reason for separation of church and state that our founders worried about. The issues does not belong in our politics and is causing such a divide among us because of a few who believe they should dictate to the many. For me don't go to your graduation and also if you do not like abortions do not have one.

    May 16, 2009 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  10. phoenix86

    ND authorities gave a plank for someone who supports infanticide. You cannot be remotely catholic and support either ND's decision or Obama.

    May 16, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  11. marke from NY

    she is not going to your own graduation because you don't like the black man. seriously, people, this is the first president that ND stand against. they did not stand against bush on death penalty. This is pure racism. religion must stay away from the state.

    May 16, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  12. Pattrick O'Harra

    Notre DAme doesnt want OBama there but it was OK for Bush who invaded Iraq for not reason and his lying failed policies had killed over 800,000 Iraiqis and over 5,000 USA soldiers.

    Now now, dont forget Bush is a war criminal yet it was ok to let him speak there.??

    May 16, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  13. catmom

    Don't go, plain and simple. Don't attend the graduation no one really cares. It will probably make the ceremony a lot shorter if those who are so intolerant of someone else's opinion. It's stupid anyway because President Obama has never stated he was for abortion, he is for a women's right to choose. If that bothers you so be it. Under her reasoning they should look at all the graduates and not give degrees to anyone who believes in a women's right to choose, there that will show them. How stupid some people are.

    May 16, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  14. Chris F

    Get a life and join the 21st century!

    May 16, 2009 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  15. John S

    Some people need to grow up. Yearsof university and still some people are still living in the dark ages. Your religious views are your own. Embrace them as you see fit, but don't try and shove your beliefs down peoples throats. When are these ignorant individuals ever going to learn. america was founded on separation of state and religion. The separation of church and state is a legal and political principle derived from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. What really makes me laugh at the ignorance of these religious people is that they support death penalties, war and yet scream blue murder about abortion. Bunch of hypocrits.

    May 16, 2009 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  16. Roy

    It would interest me to find out if the GOP is quietly stirring up this little ant's nest at Notre Dame. I am a Catholic and I am outraged that anyone would protest this…..the Catholic church has not spoken for the average American for 30 years.

    Perhaps these same students should ponder why they don't protest against the Church instead for its outmoded and obsolete positions on women in the church, allowing priests to marry, and allowing the most basic of birth control. We are not living in the 19th century….the prices to attend Notre Dame sure reflect that!

    May 16, 2009 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  17. Nathaniel Witten

    She's not actually missing her graduation, just the group assembly. What a loser.

    May 16, 2009 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  18. Lori

    The reason why I have problems with conservatives and their 'morals' is because of how hypocritical they are. I, a Democrat, totally agree with protesting the President because of his stance on abortion. I don't care for it but I still want women to have the right to choose based on their unique circumstances. However, I am consistent. I am also against the death penalty and would have protested Republican Presidents too based on their pro-death penalty stance as well because if I believe God does not want us to kill individuals then that also includes criminals (especially when the alternative sentence could be life in prison which is cheaper and more of a deterent). Based on that Christian pro-life stance, President Obama has a right to be honored especially if the Bushes and other pro-death penalty loving Presidents were honored or were allowed to speak in the past without protest.

    May 16, 2009 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  19. Barbara CA

    Okay, no honorary degree for the President (although I heard he already has a law degree).

    Well what’s next?

    Will they refuse to give degrees to Notre Dame Students who are prochoice?

    Will they refuse to give degrees to Notre Dame Students who have had abortions?

    I have always been prolife. But pro-hypocrisy, not so much.

    May 16, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  20. Hal

    I just love these phoney Catholics, who somehow forget the church's opposition to torture and the death penalty when their greed mongering right-wing pals come to speak, but if someone wants to respect a womans right to make decisions about her own body then whoa we have to protest. Allen Keyes is a perfect example of this.

    I especially love all ot the Catholic Bishops who are protesting this. When they themselves have harbored, enabled and endorsed pedophilia in their own ranks for decades. You live in glass houses. You are the ones who bray on about your religion which you then so falsley represent.

    May 16, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  21. Jim

    I deeply respect and admire Dr Ted Hesburgh. He spoke at my graduation nearly 40 years ago! And have a deep appreciation for ND. However, that there is a protest over Pres Obama's speaking at ND commencements is sad. Either ND is provides an eviornment where a variety of views are heard or it is simply a Catholic school seeking to train puppets. Just a thought!

    May 16, 2009 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  22. Kate in SW Fla

    I hope this is not indicative of the types of students this school is now graduating. If it is, the polarization we now experience, as horrific as it is, will just get worse. Narrow minded, intolerant hate mongers masquerading as "reasonable" people. Next thing we know, they will be bringing back the Inquisition.......................

    May 16, 2009 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  23. Jerry in NC

    Mr. President....I say, don't go where you're not wanted. All these "separatists" who have issues with you and your policies....let them go form their own nation somewhere far away from the U.S.. Then we REAL americans won't have to hear their whinning and crying anymore.

    May 16, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  24. Marc

    Why can't she simply admit that she's a moron that, by choice, is going to sabotage her own graduation?
    Protest against the honorary degree, protest against his policies, protest anyway, that isa your right. But don't try to spin the fact that you will not be there by your choice... and that's a big deal.

    May 16, 2009 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  25. Republicans are the American Taliban

    Good for you Emily!! Now really show us your conviction and become a nun....

    May 16, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
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