- Slideshow of pictures from the days events
- Fr. Jenkins’ introduction of President Obama
- Obama’s commencement address on YouTube (Part 1)
- Obama’s commencement address on YouTube (Part 2)
- Jill Stanek’s showing the full 1.5 mile Truth Tour at N.D.
- Carl Olsen’s wrap-up of commentary on Obama’s commencement address
The Pro-Life Action League rallied hundreds of faithful pro-lifers from the Chicago area to join in a massive protest of President Barack Obama’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on May 17. Four full bus-loads—well over 200 volunteers—were joined by hundreds of others who drove on their own, as well as three busses of volunteers from Citizens for a Pro-Life Society in Michigan.
Together, these hundreds of pro-lifers sent a clear message to both the University of Notre Dame and President Obama that abortion is an abominable betrayal of both the Catholic principle of the sanctity of life and the American principle of an inalienable right to life.
A Pro-Life “Road Trip” from Chicagoland
The League’s protest day began in the early morning hours of Sunday, May 17, in three locations throughout Chicagoland—the League office on the northwest side of Chicago, St. Thomas More Church on the south side, and Aurora Central Catholic High School in the western suburbs—where hired busses picked up staff and volunteers for the ride to South Bend, Indiana.
During the bus trip, League bus captains briefed the volunteers on the plans for the day, how to deal with passersby, police and the press, and other key details. The highlight of the bus trip was passing by one of the League’s two billboards on the Indiana Toll Road, right at mile 57, which read, “Notre Dame: Obama is pro abortion choice. How dare you honor him.”
Meanwhile, protest coordinator Eric Scheidler traveled to South Bend ahead of the busses with a cargo van packed full of “Face the Truth” and picket signs, along with his sons Nate and Sam and friend Jason Klaske. Eric arrived shortly after 9:00 a.m. and staked out the protest area, looking for anything that might require a last-minute change to his “battle plan” worked out during the preceding weeks.
Powerful League Presence at Notre Dame
By 10:00 a.m., volunteers began arriving at St. Joseph High School at the corner of Angela Boulevard and Michigan Street, the protest headquarters, graciously offered for League use by Principal Susan Richter. Wave upon wave of eager pro-lifers were quickly put to work by protest coordinator Eric Scheidler, assisted by Matt Yonke, John Jansen, Nate Scheidler, Sam Scheidler, JT Eschbach, Steve Klaske, Annie Casselman, Corrina Gura and Ann Scheidler. The League team—wearing bright, safety-green t-shirts and red “Choose Life” caps—quickly deployed hundreds of pro-life signs.
League staffers Nate Scheidler, Eric Scheidler, Matt Yonke and Sam Scheidler prepare to set up the Face the Truth Tour [Photo by Cathy Hubeny]
By the official protest start time of 10:30, a powerful display of more than 130 large, graphic abortion signs was in place, spanning over nearly a mile north of the intersection and three-quarters of a mile east, right up to the main entrance of the university. Hundreds of smaller signs reading “Stop Abortion Now,” “Shame on Notre Dame” and “Obama = Abortion” were interspersed throughout the protest, especially at the intersection of Angela and Michigan and at the university entrance.
The League protest dominated the main route into campus from the Indiana Tollroad, reaching thousands of passersby, including those streaming in for the commencement ceremonies. The League was far and away the largest of the pro-life groups to descend on South Bend.
Those arrayed along Angela Boulevard faced some resistance from local homeowners, some of whom counter-protested in favor of Obama from the comfort of lawn chairs in their yards. Several turned sprinklers on, and one even went so far as to stack a pile of filthy garbage bags up on the edge of her lawn. The pro-lifers prayerfully ignored all these distractions.
League Group Joins Vigil at Grotto
By 12:45 p.m., anyone coming for the commencement was already on campus, and League staffers began to escort volunteers from the extreme ends of the protest back to headquarters for lunch. Hundreds of sandwiches were distributed to the group while the League staff stowed the large signs and prepared for the quick trip on campus to join the prayer vigil on campus at 2:00 p.m.
Hundreds gathered at the Grotto for a prayer vigil—See larger version [Photo by Sam Scheidler]
The vigil was held at the beautiful Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and was led by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. League National Director Joe Scheidler, a 1950 graduate of Notre Dame and former teacher in the journalism school, was already there to greet the League arrivals, after a visit to the Rally for Life taking place on the South Quad during the League’s protest off campus.
As the group of 600 pro-lifers prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary at the Grotto, together with hundreds more joining in by video from the South Quad, the League’s Eric Scheidler scoped out the activity elsewhere on campus by bicycle. He saw and heard snippets of the speeches by university president Fr. John Jenkins and Barack Obama, which were being broadcast throughout campus, visited the protest continuing at the university entrance, and rode by the Joyce Center as Obama was speaking, where he offered a prayer for the presidents conversion.
The vigil concluded at 3:30 p.m. and the League protest team led the group back to the waiting busses for the return trip to Chicago. The mood on the journey home was extremely upbeat. All felt grateful to have been a part of such a significant and effective pro-life witness—a true turning point for the pro-life movement. On the Aurora bus, passengers sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and other hymns, accompanied by a concertina.
Obama Values Tone over Truth
It wasn’t until returning home that the League protesters could find out what President Obama had said during his commencement address. “Obama made a show of addressing the controversy surrounding his invitation to Notre Dame, but really said nothing of substance,” remarked Eric Scheidler. “Instead, he offered praise of those with ‘open hearts’ and ‘open minds’ who use ‘fair-minded words’—clearly suggesting that those opposing his speech are hard-hearted, close-minded and shrill.
The President can offer no defense of his radical support for abortion—even voting to deny medical care to infants who survive an attempted abortion. No wonder he would rather be judged for the tone of his voice than his actions against the sanctity of life.
Scheidler said he agrees that civility is important—the League’s new handbook, Sharing the Pro-Life Message emphasizes that—but “Civility is not an end in itself. Ultimately it is more important what you say than how you say it.” But Scheidler is not surprised by Obama’s fixation on externals. “The President can offer no defense of his radical support for abortion—even voting to deny medical care to infants who survive an attempted abortion. No wonder he would rather be judged for the tone of his voice than his actions against the sanctity of life.”
Scheidler pointed out that Obama’s speech was laced with irony. “He cited the golden rule, but failed to see how it would teach each of us, nurtured in our own mothers’ wombs, to respect the life of every unborn child. He lamented that ‘strong too often dominate the weak’ without realizing that the unborn child is the weakest of us all, so ‘dominated’ by the abortionist that her life is taken from her brutally.”
N.D. “Opposition” to Obama Policies Rings False
The League’s Ann Scheidler was more troubled by university president Fr. Jenkins’ introduction to President Obama. “Fr. Jenkins said that ‘President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him’ and then said ‘Mr. President: This is a principle we share’—and yet he steadfastly refused to meet with pro-life leaders like Joe Scheidler who respectfully requested meetings with him after the Obama invitation was announced. He wouldn’t even meet with the pro-life student group.”
Fr. Jenkins steadfastly refused to meet with pro-life leaders like Joe Scheidler who respectfully requested meetings.
Fr. Jenkins also praised Obama for being willing to accept his invitation, despite knowing that “we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.”
However, Eric Scheidler pointed out that, despite this purported opposition, the audience erupted in applause when Obama referred to parents who think embryonic stem cells might help their ailing children. “Clearly the problem at Notre Dame goes far deeper than this semester’s controversy over Barack Obama,” Scheidler remarked.
Mission Accomplished: Obama Linked to Abortion
Despite the efforts of Fr. Jenkins and President Obama to demonize their pro-life opponents as uncivil and closed-minded—even while calling open-mindedness and a respect for others’ views—Scheidler considers the League’s protest to have been an overwhelming success.
Pro-lifers holding “Obama=Abortion” and baby Malachi signs—See larger version [Photo by Sam Scheidler]
“Throughout last year’s presidential campaign,” Eric Scheidler noted, “Barack Obama’s radical pro-abortion agenda was covered up. Thanks to the Notre Dame controversy, Americans are learning that their Barack Obama is the abortion president. Mission accomplished.”
Ann Scheidler also pointed out that the Notre Dame controversy has galvanized the pro-life movement like no other issue in years. “If Fr. Jenkins and Barack Obama had set out to wake up the sleeping giant of pro-life Americans, they couldn’t have done a better job.” She believes that a turning point for the pro-life movement was reached in South Bend, Indiana on Graduation Day 2009.
League Protest in the News
The Pro-Life Action League was featured in many news stories surrounding the protest of Barack Obama at Notre Dame, including interviews of Joe, Eric and Ann Scheidler. League signage was to be seen in nearly all the footage broadcast about the protest:
- Assosciated Press video featuring Eric Scheidler
- WGN News video featuring Ann Scheidler
- ABC News video featuring Joe Scheidler
- Interview with Joe Scheidler from CBS News
- Washington Post article featuring Eric Scheidler
- Associated Press article featuring Eric Scheidler
- South Bend Tribune Article featuring Joe Scheidler
- Fox News article featuring Corrina Gura
Many commentators have offered thoughtful respondes to President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame. Offered here are some of the most notable and inciteful commentaries, along with an excerpt from each:
- “Obama and the ‘Real’ Catholics: The president inserts himself into a religious debate” by George Weigel—National Review Online 5/18/09
- What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting, not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are. [Read it all]
- “Doubt, Dialogue and Demonization” by Fr. Roger Landry—The Anchor 5/22/09
- The fundamental reason why the President called for dialogue and common ground on abortion in South Bend—and set up an elaborate pseudo-religious argument to pretend that it’s all that can be achieved between the “irreconciliable” views on both sides of the abortion issue—seems to be because he seeks to draw pro-lifers, and Catholics in particular, from a position of moral absolutism about the evil of abortion to one aligned with the “demands of a new age,” which wants unfettered abortion access. [Read it all]
- “Obama Scored Big at Notre Dame: At least the president is forthright about his principles” by William McGurn
- [The New York] Times front page was dominated by a color photograph of a beaming president, resplendent in his blue-and-gold Notre Dame academic gown, reaching out to graduates eager to shake his hand or just touch his robe. It was precisely the message President Obama wanted to send: How bad can he be on abortion if Notre Dame is willing to honor him? [Read it all]
- “Notre Dame Says ‘Yes We Can'” by Jean Kathryn Lopez—National Review Online 5/18/09
- “Dialogue” has been the apparent cardinal virtue during this Notre Dame affair, as so often is the case when higher education and religion get controversial. . . . But it wasn’t there on Sunday at the commencement exercises, and to pretend that it was is a continued outrage. [Read it all]