On Sunday, a group of about 150 students walked out during Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.
Conservative outlets blasted the silent protest as a form of intolerance to opposing views and an affront to free speech. But according to Mike Pence’s own speech, that actually couldn’t be further from the truth.
In his address, Pence railed against political correctness, intolerance to others’ opinions, and people trying to impose their views on others.
“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 the suppression of freedom of speech.”
It’s undeniably weird advice to get from someone who has in his 16 years in politics worked hard to enshrine his own personal views into law and create barriers to others’ ability to live their lives.
In early 2015, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed a bill into law allowing businesses to turn away customers for being LGBTQ. As a member of Congress, Pence co-sponsored a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage because he doesn’t believe in it. In 2016, he tried to ban Syrian refugees from being resettled in Indiana. He also signed a bill requiring people who have abortions to bury or cremate aborted fetuses because of his personal stance on abortion. One woman was even sentenced to 20 years in prison under a Pence-signed law for “feticide” after self-inducing an abortion.
While it’s his right to hold those personal beliefs about abortion, marriage, and Syrian refugees, using the law to impose those views on others (and take away their right to make decisions based on their beliefs) is exactly what he used his speech to say politicians shouldn’t do.
After all, what is “political correctness” if not the idea that we should enforce a right and a wrong way of thinking or acting? You’d think that someone opposed to that concept wouldn’t use the law to impose their own personal views on others but that’s what Pence has spent a career doing.
The students aren’t “snowflakes” for walking out, either they’re simply taking Pence’s advice to heart.
A Notre Dame professor offered a perfect defense of the students’ actions, telling BuzzFeed writer Anne Helen Petersen (anonymously) that the walkout was a “powerful choice of protest in literally standing up for [what] they believe is right for them, for social justice and civil rights, and for Notre Dame.”
The best defense came from Pence himself, speaking in support of “free expression,” which includes things like, yes, peaceful protests.
Pence offered an impassioned defense of “the time-honored tradition of free expression” and urged students not to allow those who wish to suppress that speech to “be met with silence.”
Ironically, it’s the people who say the students should have stayed seated some going so far as to say students who walked out should have their degrees withheld are the ones promoting an “increasing intolerance” to opposing and suppressing free speech.
Luckily, the student protesters heeded the words of the man whose speech they missed by not allowing themselves to be silenced.
Congrats, Notre Dame class of 2017 for your academic achievements and your commitment to free speech.
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