This May, President Obama will deliver the commencement address to the University of Notre Dame’s class of 2009, and some – particularly political activists who oppose abortion and embryonic stem cell research – aren’t happy about it. The decision of Notre Dame, a university with a strong Catholic tradition, to host Obama has enraged many in South Bend and across the country.

In addition to several student organizations (including Notre Dame Right to Life and Notre Dame College Republicans), national groups like the Cardinal Newman Society and the Pro-Life Action League have entered the fray. With Web sites, Facebook groups and action committees, an array of conservative and Catholic groups have expressed their opposition to the invitation of Obama to speak.

Their efforts are not only in vain – they are illogical and counterproductive.

Critics have voiced their concern that Obama’s presence will give the impression that Notre Dame approves of Obama’s positions on abortion and stem cells. A petition organized by the Cardinal Newman Society complained, “It is an outrage and a scandal that `Our Lady’s University,’ one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage.”

If the political beliefs of every commencement speaker needed to satisfy the doctrinal demands of the Catholic Church, Notre Dame’s pool of prospective guests would be small indeed. The same goes for Georgetown, and it seems administrators have pragmatically recognized this reality – the School of Foreign Service hosted Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at its commencement ceremonies in 2002, for instance.

Notre Dame’s president, John Jenkins, echoed this point in defending the selection: “We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited [Obama] because we care so much about those issues, and we hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him.”

Detractors seek to inhibit the sort of engagement and discussion that most modern universities commit to foster. By trying to block Obama from speaking, groups at Notre Dame are attempting to allow only one voice to be heard in some of our society’s most challenging discussions.

Pro-life and anti-stem cell research activists opposing the invitation also impede their own movements. Projecting an image of anti-intellectualism and partisanship will do nothing to make socially conservative political positions more appealing to moderate Americans.

The president should be commended for agreeing to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame this spring – it speaks to his sincere undertaking to welcome social conservatives into his political coalition. Conservatives and Catholics are more than welcome to decline Obama’s invitation; in the interest of intellectual and social discourse and their own political sustainability, however, we suggest that they leave Notre Dame’s invitation alone.

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