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Mike Pence Applauded for Lauding Free Speech at Notre Dame Commencement Despite Walkouts

Vice President Mike Pence received repeated applause on Sunday despite a small pre-planned protest as he urged thousands of Notre Dame graduates, in “these divided times,” to carry the university’s principles into every place they live and work and “be leaders for the freedom of thought and expression.”

Just dozens to over 100 of the over 3,100 Notre Dame graduates walked out of their own graduation in protest ahead of the vice president’s speech. The walkout had been planned and reported ahead of the commencement.

Pence’s remarks at Notre Dame’s 172nd commencement centered a great deal on the freedom of speech and the “exceptional” university’s history as a “vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas.” He charged students to be, “exceptional from this day forth.”

The vice president summarized that the founding of “This university stands without apology for human freedom and the inherent dignity of every human person, and it holds fast to the faith that gave it birth.”

He spoke of the impact of the university’s educational initiatives, commitment to social concerns, and that “focus on ethics and culture promotes the value of all human life.”

“Just as Notre Dame has stood strong to protect its religious liberty, I’m proud that this president just took steps to ensure that this university and the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to violate their consciences to fully participate in American civic life,” said Pence. His comment was met with applause.

He continued:

And just as Notre Dame has stood for those who are persecuted for their faith around the world, just a short while ago in Saudi Arabia, this president spoke out against religious persecution of all people, of all faiths. And on the world stage, he condemned, in his words, “the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.”

Pence referred to Notre Dame’s similar commitment to stand “without apology for the sanctity of human life.” He then urged the graduates to, “carry the ideals and the values that you’ve learned at Notre Dame into your lives and your careers.”

He called on the grads to be leaders in family, community, and field of endeavor “for the values you learned here at Notre Dame.”

Citing “these divided times,” Pence added one more aspect of the Notre Dame culture into “the mainstream of American life.”

If the emanations of free speech were charted on a map like infrared heat signatures, one would hope that universities would be the hottest places — red and purple with dispute; not dark blue and white — frozen into cant, orthodoxy, and intellectual stasis.

If such a map were to exist, Notre Dame would burn bright with the glow of vibrant discussion. This university is a vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas at a time, sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America.

Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed — where opposing views are debated and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear.  (Applause.)

But Notre Dame is an exception — an island in a sea of conformity, so far spared from the noxious wave that seems to be rushing over much of academia. While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness — all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.  (Applause.)

These all-too-common practices are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. And they are wholly outside the American tradition.  (Applause.)

Vice President Pence suggested to the thousands gathered that “increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardizes the liberties of every American. This should not — and must not — be met with silence. (Applause.)

His statements were, again and again, met with applause from the crowd.

Pence recalled the passing of Notre Dame “giant” Father Theodore Hesburgh over two years ago.

He quoted Hesburgh:

Notre Dame can and must be a crossroads where all the vital intellectual currents of our time meet in dialogue, where the great issues are plumbed to their depths, where every sincere inquirer is welcomed and listened to, where differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality, respect and love.

Pence continued:

Father Ted said Notre Dame was to be, as she is today, “a place where the endless conversation is harbored and not foreclosed.”

And so I say to this rising generation: So, too, must America be in your time.  (Applause.)

The vice president urged the graduates, “Be leaders for the freedom of thought and expression. Carry the example and principles you’ve learned here to all the places where you will live and work.”

The group WeStaNDFor announced their walkout plans well ahead of the commencement event. Graduate student and member of the group Luis Miranda said the group was opposing Pence on their claim that he “has supported policies that have targeted the weakest and most vulnerable among us,” according to NBC News. University officials said that the students, who walked out before diplomas were awarded, were not allowed to re-enter the event.

Pence took special note of Notre Dame’s location in Indiana as he served many years as governor of the state.

The vice president’s commencement speech a day prior at Grove City College centered more on persisting in the face of criticism and events in life that seem to be setbacks. He encouraged the graduates to have courage and that “leadership brings both honor and opposition.”

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana.

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