In a sad commentary on what we feel should be the relatively unencumbered presence and discussion of varying points of view on our college campuses — and elsewhere — Bob Kerrey has decided against speaking at Creighton University’s May commencement ceremonies, saying he would become a distraction if Republicans protested at the event.
The Nebraska GOP’s executive director, Ryan Hamilton, had asked Creighton to rescind its invitation to Kerrey because of Kerrey’s pro-choice position on abortion.
Kerrey, we think, should be applauded for his extremely measured response. In a letter delivered to the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, Creighton University’s president, last Monday, Kerrey said that he would take back his acceptance to speak at Creighton’s two commencement ceremonies on May 18. He said commencement “should be a moment of celebration” and should “not be interrupted with politics.”
Hamilton told The Omaha World-Herald Republicans had no intention of disrupting the event or demonstrating at it.
Kerry is a former Nebraska governor, a former U.S. senator representing Nebraska and a winner of the nation’s highest military commendation — the Medal of Honor — for his service during the Vietnam War.
He is also a Democrat who supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe V. Wade decision on abortion, a man who openly feels it is the civil right of women to make their own reproductive choices.
“Creighton is a Jesuit institution formally affiliated with the Catholic Church, one of the country’s most consistent and reliable advocates for pro-life causes,” Hamilton said. “Nebraska is a pro-life state and Republicans are a pro-life party. We strongly urge Creighton to take a stand for their pro-life values and find a more appropriate figure to honor at their upcoming commencement.”
Inviting someone to speak does not constitute an endorsement of their point of view. Hamilton’s comments underscore the isolationism — the unwillingness to recognize or to discuss, let alone consider, opposing points of view — that has become the hallmark of today’s political discourse.
Kerrey sent Hamilton and Nebraska GOP Chairman Dan Welch a letter in which he stated he faced similar demands from students when he was president of the New School in New York.
“I expect it from young people who need to learn how to engage in important debates. I did not expect it from you,” Kerrey wrote. “You … should know better.”
Kerrey also asked if Republicans would continue to insist that universities not invite speakers with whom they disagree.
Hamilton said in an interview Monday that some Nebraska Republicans and stakeholders agreed that the party should speak up.
“We also wanted to speak out for our pro-life beliefs,” he said.
“Speaking out for our pro-life beliefs” should not include locking out others who do not share that belief.
Creighton was right to invite Kerrey. Hamilton and those who supported his objection were wrong. Creighton’s graduates and society as a whole have been disserved.