In the weeks leading up to Notre Dame’s Commencement on May 17, 2009, a number
of people violated University policies on campus demonstrations. They were given
repeated warnings by law enforcement officials, and then, when they persisted,
they were arrested and charged with Criminal Trespass.
The prosecution of the resulting cases is in the hands of St. Joseph County
Prosecutor, Mike Dvorak. The University has been in conversation with Mr.
Dvorak’s office about these cases, and he has informed us by letter about how he
will proceed. We believe Mr. Dvorak’s decisions are balanced and lenient.
For all those who are eligible, Mr. Dvorak is offering the Pre-Trial Diversion
Program, which gives individuals the chance to avoid a trial and have their
cases dismissed with no record of a criminal conviction. To be eligible, a
person must waive the right to a trial; have no criminal record; and agree to
obey local, state, and federal laws for one year. The program also includes the
payment of a fee for costs, but in his letter Mr. Dvorak assures us that his
office will work with those who demonstrate financial need to reduce or even
waive the fees. For those who successfully complete the program, the result will
be as if the charges have been dropped. Those who have a criminal record are not
eligible for this program and must either plead guilty or stand trial. While
Notre Dame has in the past banned from campus those who have been arrested for
trespass, the University will waive that penalty for those who complete the
pre-trial diversion program, are acquitted of charges, or plead guilty.
There has been significant interest in this case, so I would like to clarify two
points. First, as I have made plain in my every public statement regarding
Commencement, we at Notre Dame embrace the Catholic position on the sanctity of
life. We oppose abortion, and support laws that protect life from conception to
natural death. In this respect, we fully agree with the protestors.
Second, some have incorrectly suggested that having the protestors arrested
means we are hostile to the pro-life position. But, the University cannot have
one set of rules for causes we oppose, and another more lenient set of rules for
causes we support. We have one consistent set of rules for demonstrations on
campus – no matter what the cause.
We require that any campus demonstration, regardless of the issue, be organized
by a student, faculty or staff member, receive approval from the University
through the Office of Student Affairs, and be peaceful and orderly. Those who
were arrested last spring met none of these criteria and, in particular, were
led by individuals who threatened peace and order by promising upheaval on our
campus. Several pro-life demonstrations that met our criteria were held on
campus before and during Commencement. Those now charged with trespass could
have joined these protests without interference or arrest. They were highly
publicized, easily accessible, and well attended. These included a demonstration
on April 5 in front of the Main Building; a Eucharistic adoration from May 16 to
May 17 in one of the residence hall chapels; and on Commencement day, a Mass, a
rally, and a prayer vigil on South Quad and a Rosary and meditation at the
Grotto. Nearly 3,000 people participated in the prayerful protest on the South
Quad. Each of these events was open to the general public and none of the
participants in any of these activities were arrested.
At Notre Dame, we welcome passionate debate of public issues. Indeed, we welcome
protest, and we have great respect for people who engage in the long and noble
tradition of civil disobedience and courageously accept the consequences to call
attention to themselves and their message. Yet we must insist on maintaining the
order that allows students, faculty, and staff to learn, inquire, and conduct
the business of the University. It is this dual commitment to free expression
and public order that has guided us in this case.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. • Date: April 30, 2010