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Coalition condemns Obama’s invitation

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, March 26, 2009

A coalition of student groups formed an ad hoc committee to “lead student response” in condemning the University’s invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver Notre Dame’s 2009 Commencement address, according to a press release.

The coalition – including Notre Dame Right to Life, Notre Dame College Republicans, the Irish Rover student newspaper and six other campus groups – created a Web site, ndresponse.com, and released a formal statement Wednesday denouncing University President Fr. John Jenkin’s choice of speaker.

“In response to the University’s decision, we pledge ourselves to acts of witness that will be characterized by respect, prayerfulness, outspoken fidelity to the Church and true concern for the good of our University,” the statement said of the coalition’s purpose.

Although outside religious and pro-life groups have been outspoken against the University, this coalition is the first formal student response.

But several Facebook groups have sprung up with the purpose of garnering support for Jenkins’ decision. The largest group, titled “We will be honored to have President Obama at Notre Dame,” claims 3,453 members as of press time.

Despite the controversy, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the president is honored to speak to Notre Dame students.

“Notre Dame is one of the first universities President Obama will visit as president,” Inouye said. “He is honored to address the graduating class, their families and the faculty of a school with such a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas.”

Mary Daly, president of Notre Dame Right to Life, said the coalition’s Web site has already gotten a huge response.

“I personally have gotten over 55 pages of e-mails, and the e-mail of the coalition just today has received a massive response very quickly,” Daly said.

Daly said the coalition is the result of a meeting on Tuesday that was organized by Right to Life but extended to all interested groups and individuals.

“It initiated some communication amongst the groups and after debating, we decided it was best to collaborate on the basis of our common ground based on our beliefs,” she said. “We thought it would be most effective if we worked together on the issue.”

Daly said she cannot comment specifically about the coalition’s plans because they are in the very beginning stages, but the group’s Web site lists an event slated for March 31 in which the coalition will deliver red envelops to Jenkins representing abortions.

According to the site, the letters will say: “Fr. Jenkins, This envelope represents one child who died because of an abortion. It is empty because the life that was taken is now unable to be a part of our world. This envelope was going to be sent to President Obama on March 31st. However, as he is scheduled to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree from Notre Dame on May 17th, we ask that you deliver it to him on our behalf at that time.”

Daly said the coalition aims to “provide concrete, solid leadership” and have students primarily leading the protests, but will tap into the resources of outside groups that have offered help.

“This is an issue that’s much bigger than this University to be honest, and so it affects everybody and everyone associated in any remote way with the University,” she said. “Even people who have never stepped on campus.”

However, Daly said the coalition has not reached out to or made any formal alliances with any outside groups or individuals.

“Outside groups have been in contact with us, but we have not reached out to anyone because we think it’s important that we are expressing a student voice,” she said. “We have been receiving a barrage of e-mails, but we aren’t at a point to formally cooperate or organize anything.”

Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown told The Observer student groups can sponsor these kinds of events and the University supports the engagement of dialogue.

“It’s important to hear a variety of opinions on a college campus,” he said.