Obama and Notre Dame: stayin' alive

Dateline: Mon 20 Apr 2009

With the Indianapolis Star, the New York Times and the Criterion (the weekly Catholic newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis) still running articles and fiery letters to the editor about President Obama speaking at the University of Notre Dame, let's agree: this topic remains a lightning rod.

I was shocked but not surprised to read in the Criterion that evangelical Protestant/Right-to-Life honcho Randall Terry already has opened a storefront in South Bend, the better to fan the flames of anti-Obama sentiment and spark protests before and during the commencement address May 17. Terry employs a rhetoric of violence in condemning those with whom he disagrees, and he has labeled Obama an "agent of death" and in the past called upon Christians to foster a culture of hate and intolerance in the U.S..

While Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne has urged Catholics not to join Terry, I prefer to hear from heads less hot. In that spirit, I share an email from longtime Star reader and former Indy resident Hank Koegel.

Koegel, who reads this blog, is a graduate of Notre Dame's law school. He is also the husband of a Notre Dame law school graduate and the father of two sons at the school. He now resides in Minneapolis, where he continues to follow Indiana issues. Incidentally, he is not a Catholic, although his wife and sons are.

Here are his thoughts:

"I am opposed to abortion. I do believe that life begins at conception and that it is sacred. Still, my wife and I are both very happy that President Obama will be giving the commencement address. My sons tell me that only a relatively small minority of the students are strongly opposed to the President speaking. Many students are extremely happy. I get the sense that no one really knows the break down of who is opposed and who if for but that the fors are the majority.

"In my view, this is a commencement speech. It is not an advocacy speech for abortion or stem cell research.

"I question the faith of those who would ban speech by those who they disagree with. If a person's faith is not strong enough to withstand the presence of one who holds a contrary view, especially when they are not even speaking on the issue, then they have no real faith to begin with."

That argument should put this baby to bed. We are on very thin ice when we cannot tolerate a difference of opinion to the point that we want to shout down the opposition, or worse. Let's hope civil discourse and perspective prevail at Notre Dame.

Thanks to Koegel for his patience in publishing his comments here.

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