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Presidential commencement addresses trigger debate

Two of President Obama's planned commencement addresses — at the University of Notre Dame and at Arizona State University — have engendered controversy in recent weeks.

At Notre Dame, a conservative Catholic group started an online petition calling for the Indiana university to rescind its invitation for Obama to give a speech and receive an honorary degree at its May 17 commencement.

The petition, which according to the Washington Post has some 87,000 signatures, reads, "It is an outrage and a scandal that ‘Our Lady's University,' one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage."

The petition was started by the Cardinal Newman Society, a Virginia-based college Catholic advocacy group, and supported by other groups including and Operation Rescue, which identifies itself as "the leading pro-life Christian activist organization in the nation."

Notre Dame, however, has defended Obama's invitation. In an online statement, the university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said Obama's speech should spark dialogue about these issues at Notre Dame.

"The invitation to President Obama to be our commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research," Jenkins said in the statement. "Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement."

The university has a tradition of inviting new presidents to speak, and has hosted Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in past years.

At Arizona State, where Obama is scheduled to speak May 13, controversy has centered on whether the university will grant the president an honorary degree. ASU's policy is to not award honorary degrees to sitting politicians, according to ASU's student newspaper, the State Press.

"Because President Obama's body of work is yet to come, it's inappropriate to recognize him at this time," university spokeswoman Sharon Keeler told the State Press.

Some members of the ASU community and the public have since protested, and university officials are now considering granting the president an honorary degree despite the school's policy.

Obama will also deliver the commencement address at the United States Naval Academy on May 22.



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