Joe Biden will skip a commencement ceremony traditionally attended by presidents amid a row over his pro-abortion views at the Catholic university.
Biden’s administration will be the first since Bill Clinton‘s to skip the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony, after more than 4,000 students and alumni signed a petition urging school officials not to invite the president over his pro-choice view on abortion.
A White House official told the Catholic News Agency on May 11 that the president was invited to give a commencement speech and receive an honorary degree from the school but would not attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Instead, school officials announced earlier this month, finance executive and trustee Jimmy Dunne would address the graduates at Sunday’s commencement.
President Joe Biden will not speak at the University of Notre Dame graduation, breaking a tradition in which administration officials speak to the graduates in their first year in office. He previously spoke to students at the school in 2016
The University of Notre Dame is a private Catholic School in Indiana
It marks the first time since the Clinton administration in the 1990s that neither a president or vice president would give the commencement address in his or her first year in office.
President Trump also skipped the ceremony – traditionally attended by presidents in their first year in office – to go to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
But Trump, who painted himself as a staunchly anti-abortion president, sent his Vice President Mike Pence instead.
It is unclear whether Vice President Kamala Harris was invited to speak.
‘While Notre Dame has had more presidents serve as commencement speakers than any university other than military academies, we have not always hosted a president in his first year in office — or at all,’ a school spokesman told the CNA, noting John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump never addressed Notre Dame’s graduates.
Former Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement speech instead in 2017, after Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins expressed concerns about inviting former President Donald Trump over his views on immigration.
Biden has said he is staunchly pro-choice, and has condemned recent efforts by US states to limit access to abortion.
He has done so despite being a devout Catholic, with the president’s church famed for its vocal and staunch position against abortion in almost all circumstances.
Former President Barack Obama’s invitation was also met with scrutiny due to his views on abortion, but students and alumni wrote in a letter to Jenkins the case against honoring Biden ‘is immeasurably stronger than it was against honoring President Obama,’ arguing Biden has a goal of ‘providing direct federal funding to abortions.
George W. Bush spoke at Notre Dame’s graduation in 2001, praising the faith-based school
President Barack Obama was invited to speak in his first year in office, in 2009
Obama’s invitation was met with backlash from anti-abortion advocates
‘He rejects Church teaching on abortion, marriage, sex and gender and is hostile to religious liberty,’ the students, alumni and other community members of the Catholic university wrote in their online petition. ‘He embraces the most pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty public policy program in history.’
They argued his ‘actions already taken and those promised will result in the killing of countless innocent unborn both here and abroad through federal funding of abortion and abortion organizations,’ and ‘by honoring Biden, Notre Dame would make a bad situation worse.’
‘The university would be seen as little troubled by Biden’s actions,’ the petition, which was signed by 4,300 Notre Dame community members, reads, adding: ‘Catholics – including especially Catholic politicians — and others who share Biden’s views would be confirmed in their ruinous error while others would be newly led astray.
‘We suggest that [the university’s] responsibility … is to guard Church teachings that are crucially important in today’s society by conferring its honors upon those who support them rather than upon those who oppose them, especially the one person above all who has the will and the power to undermine them.’
White House officials said they hope the president can speak at the Catholic school in the future.
He has already done so in 2016, when he joined former House Speaker John Boehner at its commencement ceremony.
Notre Dame’s history of presidential speakers
Many former presidents have spoken at the school, including Ronald Reagan, who attended the school’s commencement in 1981
It was a happy accident that started the Catholic university’s tradition of having presidents speak at commencement ceremonies.
In 1960, Father Hesburgh booked President Eisenhower two weeks before graduation. The four others he invited had other engagements.
The next president to speak at commencement was Jimmy Carter in 1977, followed four years later by Ronald Reagan in his first visit out of Washington since an attempted assassination.
In 1992 President George H.W. Bush came, with his son delivering his commencement speech in 2001 – declaring faith-based organizations were central to the war on poverty.
Eight years passed before Obama’s turn, but not without people up in arms. The pro-life movement protested the pro-choice president.
And in 2017, the school heard from Vice President Mike Pence rather than from President Donald J. Trump.