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Opinion: John Kerry Must Be Allowed To Give Commencement Speech At Boston College

Photo courtesy of Flickr

A little over a year ago, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was invited by Boston College to give the commencement speech for the Class of 2013. Anti-abortion extremists, livid over the audacity of a Jesuit Catholic university hosting a man who appeared to them to support abortion rights, attempted to stop the occasion from happening. They wrote letters to Father Leahy, Cardinal O’Malley, and Pope Francis, and protested on Commencement Day, but to no avail.

In response, I penned an op-ed affirming that Boston College should allow Prime Minister Kenny to speak, refuting the logic of the anti-abortion extremists in the process. This particular band was not “pro-life” as one might expect, but rather “pro-death”.

Here’s why: Kenny was attempting to reform Ireland’s abortion law in accordance with a 21 year old Irish Supreme Court decision that found abortion to be legal in circumstances that threaten the health and life of the mother. This push stemmed from a 2012 case in which a woman named Savita Halappanavar was refused an abortion in the process of a miscarriage, contracted septicemia as a result and died shortly thereafter.

Even though the abortion debate is a contentious issue, and the act itself is not something to be taken lightly, reasonable people on both the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” sides of the debate can agree that an abortion should have been performed to save the life of Halappanavar. The extremist protestors were unable to grasp the nuanced, zero-sum nature at play here, and would rather have seen Halappanavar die without an abortion than live because of one.

While I also affirmed the right of these extremists to protest under the First Amendment, I found them to be defaming Kenny’s character, and also threatening academic integrity and freedom of speech, hallmarks of a university education. As a private institution, Boston College can invite whomever it wants to speak without undue coercion.

The protests outside of campus last year. Photo Courtesy of massresistance.org

The protests outside of campus last year. Photo Courtesy of massresistance.org

Now, you would think that after their argument was ripped to shreds, and their protests failed to have any effect, that they would devote their energies to more meaningful pursuits? After all, Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.

Nope. Somehow, they didn’t get the hint the first time and they’re back for Round 2. Which means that, since my fellow classmates and I are the ones that are graduating, now it’s personal.

John Kerry: former Senator from Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, and current Secretary of State, will be giving the commencement address. I thought it was a logical choice: Kerry graduated from Boston College Law School and as Secretary of State, he is the highest ranking BC alumnus in government. But the same “pro-death” extremists who had a problem with Enda Kenny last year want to ruin the fun and protest John Kerry too for similar reasons.

Immediately after BC announced that Kerry was the commencement speaker, a man by the name of John O’Gorman emailed a press release to The Gavel. He seemed unable to let go of the past, falsely accusing Enda Kenny of “introducing abortion on demand in Ireland”. He then proceeded to condemn both Kerry and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (who is giving the commencement address for BC Law) as being “prominent abortion speakers” and, like with Kenny last year, demanding that they be disinvited from commencement. Also like last year, the phone numbers and email addresses of Father Leahy, Cardinal O’Malley, and Pope Francis were listed.

Furthermore, Matthew Archbold of Catholic Education Daily, the online publication of the ultra-conservative Cardinal Newman Society, also lambasted Kerry’s selection. However, I found it ironic that Archbold fell flat in attempting to discredit Kerry by using some of his most rational quotes.

On Abortion:

“I don’t like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception. But I can’t take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist . . . who doesn’t share it. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.”

“I completely respect their (bishops)views. I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views. But I disagree with them, as do many. I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith. I believe that choice is a woman’s choice. It’s between a woman, God and her doctor. That’s why I support that. I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade.”

And regarding stem cell research:

“I think we can do ethically guided embryonic stem cell research. We have 100,000 to 200,000 embryos that are frozen in nitrogen today from fertility clinics. These weren’t taken from abortion or something like that, they’re from a fertility clinic, and they’re either going to be destroyed or left frozen. It is respecting life to reach for that cure. It is respecting life to do it in an ethical way.”

These quotes speak for themselves. Yet, Archbold accuses Kerry of placing “his allegiance to Roe v. Wade over Catholic teaching”. But what does he expect, a theocracy? Violating the First Amendment prohibition against the government establishing a state religion? I’m sure that Archbold certainly wouldn’t like the Torah or Sharia law to supersede the Supreme Court and the Constitution, so what makes Catholic teaching any different?

Furthermore, those who consider themselves to be “pro-life” should support embryonic stem cell research, as it has the potential to cure countless diseases that current medicine cannot. Embryonic stem cells hold far more promise than adult stem cells because they have greater potential for differentiation and divide more rapidly. If embryos are not going to be used anyway, they should be donated for research for the betterment of humanity.

Kerry is a Catholic in high public office who is able to reconcile both his personal religious beliefs and his public duties, and that alone is worth an invitation to speak at Boston College. At a time when academic speech is being chilled, most notably with Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers, the efforts of these anti-abortion extremists are particularly dangerous.

Two days from now, I will hear John Kerry speak, walk across the stage and receive my diploma from one of the greatest universities in the world. And to whoever decides to come and protest, as is your constitutional right: there is nothing you can do about it.

 

 

 

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About Kenny St. John, Emeritus Opinions Editor

School, major and year: A&S, Political Science, '14
Hometown Lindenhurst, New York
You have 24 hours to give prospective students a tour of BC and convince them to enroll. How do you spend the day? I’d take them to Seth Jacob’s Vietnam class to show off the academics, then head over to Gasson, Stokes, and Bapst…then Conte Forum for a hockey game, and then a trip to some Mod parties.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a pep talk the night before you moved into BC as a freshman, what is the most important piece of advice that you would give to your former self? Keep calm and things will fall into place.
What is your favorite study spot on campus? Usually my desk in my dorm room or a table in my common room.
What is your go-to meal at Late Night? Mozzarella sticks (pronounced muz-zuh-elle in my Brooklynese/Long Island accent) paired up with a Honey Q Wrap, with Blue cheese and without the tomato
What is the best Halloween costume that you have ever worn? This is a tough one. Probably the Michael Jackson costume that I’ve worn the past 2 years, possibly soon to be 3 come this October.
If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Let's go Outback tonight.
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