Protesting Students Walk Out On Pence's Address At Notre Dame

May 21, 2017
Originally published on May 22, 2017 6:20 am

A large group of students walked out of the University of Notre Dame's commencement ceremony Sunday in protest of Vice President Mike Pence's policies.

Video from the event shows people applauding followed by loud boos as the vice president began a commencement address at the school, while dozens of students began to file out from the floor of the stadium.

The walkout was planned in protest at what organizers called Pence's policies that "have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation."

Pence did not comment on the walkout, according to The Associated Press. But he said Notre Dame "is a vanguard of the freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas at a time, sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America," in what the AP reports was in reference to violence erupting over invitations of conservative speakers to talk at college campuses across the country.

Pence was the governor of Indiana from 2013 until January 2017, shortly before he assumed the vice presidency. He has a record as governor, and before that as an Indiana congressional representative, of strong social conservatism and opposition to abortion rights and LGBT rights. Pence set off a large backlash in early 2015 when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave Indiana businesses "who object to same-sex couples ... a legal right to deny them services," as the Two-Way reported. He later signed a revised version of the law.

As NPR's Meg Anderson noted, Pence has said same-sex marriage could cause "societal collapse."

In early 2016 "Pence signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The law bans abortions due to fetal abnormalities and also requires aborted fetuses — and those from miscarriage — to be buried or cremated," NPR reported last year.

Protest organizers said in a statement that in addition to Pence's "target[ing] the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community," they were protesting that Pence had "rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities."

The school invited Pence to speak after students signed a petition against having President Trump speak at the commencement. The AP notes that six presidents have given commencement addresses at Notre Dame, and it's been traditionally an event for a president's first year in office.

President Obama addressed students in 2009 and was heckled by anti-abortion activists at the prominent Catholic university, NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports.

NPR's Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.

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