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Profs. talk Obama invite

Ann-Marie Woods | Thursday, April 23, 2009

Continuing the discussion over President Barack Obama’s invitation to be Commencement speaker, the third installment of the Orestes Brownson Council lecture series addressed the role of Notre Dame students and American Catholics in the nation’s political environment in LaFortune on Wednesday night.

Professor of Law Rick Garnett said the Church and state are impossible to disentangle when it comes to our beliefs.

“Religion will matter to us and will effect what we believe,” Garnett said. “Religion and politics always will be connected.”

Garnett explained that people mistakenly take the separation of church and state to mean a total divide of religion and politics. Garnett instead argued that both religious and political voices should have a platform for discussion.

“If you care about a marketplace of ideas, you’re only going to get that if you have authentic, distinct voices,” Garnett said. “Notre Dame has to have the freedom as well as the willingness to be different. Wherever you are on this invitation, you have to commit to the idea that Notre Dame matters.”

The current controversy, Garnett argued, has shown “there is a remarkable consensus that Notre Dame matters.”

“It matters whether you support the invitation or not. To matter, Notre Dame has to stand for something,” he said.

Professor Dan Philpott, associate professor of political science, also spoke about on the sanctity of life.

Acknowledging the present tension at Notre Dame, Philpott said the debate is an important opportunity to advocate for basic human rights central to the Church’s position on life.

“The unborn is the class of human beings whose rights are more violated than any other in society,” Philpott said.

Using the concept of reconciliation as an overall theme in his argument, Philpott argued that the pro-life movement should be understood in the context of other social movements, such as the Civil Rights movement and women’s liberation.

“Abortion violates a human right that cannot be overridden by other considerations,” Philpott said. “Governments who pass laws [allowing abortion] fail in one of the most fundamental aspects of justice.”

Arguing that abortion represents a loss of human life, Philpott and Garnett emphasized the personhood of the unborn child as well as the “culture of healing” needed in a society where abortion occurs.

Both Garnett and Philpott agreed that Notre Dame is a place where this debate should take place.

“Notre Dame, like all of us, is flawed,” Garnett said. “Notre Dame is distinctively Catholic, but we can’t take anything for granted. It can’t be something that becomes a brand. [The Catholic nature] has to pervade the whole enterprise.”