Dozens of students about to graduate from the University of Notre Dame walked out of the commencement ceremony Sunday morning to protest the decision to have the main address delivered by Vice President Pence.
A statement from those who organized the protest said that, as governor of Indiana and vice president of the United States, Pence has "targeted the civil rights protections of members of the LGBT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee settlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities and fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color and sexual orientation."
The students who walked out did so quietly and did not disrupt Pence's talk. The video below includes the introduction of Pence, and the walkout starts at about 0:50.
The audience at the commencement greeted Pence warmly, and the boos appeared directed at those walking out, not the vice president.
Notre Dame typically invites new presidents of the United States to be the commencement speaker during their first year in office. In 2009, many anti-abortion activists (largely outside the university) condemned Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to deliver the address, given his support for abortion rights. But he was warmly received and praised the university for being willing to listen to all views.
Since the election of Donald Trump as president, many on campus had been debating whether he should be invited to speak. In March, without commenting on Trump's suitability as a speaker, the university announced that Pence would appear.
When Pence did speak, one of his themes was that colleges are no longer supportive of free speech, although he took care to say that he was not commenting on Notre Dame.
"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," Pence said. "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."
The vice president continued, "These all-too-common practices are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge, and they are wholly outside the American tradition. As you, our youth, are the future, and universities the bellwether of thought and culture, I would submit that the 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."