Vice President Mike Pence forged ahead Sunday with his University of Norte Dame commencement speech as some in attendance walked out, encouraging the graduates to keep their religious faith, value the freedom of speech and saying “the future is yours.”
Pence, a former Indiana governor, was the most recent college campus speaker to face backlash or protest from students, faculty and others over ideological differences.
He was invited to speak at the Catholic school, in South Bend, Ind., after students and faculty objected to a prospective invitation to President Trump, who would have been the seventh U.S. president to give the commencement address.
Trump has faced harsh criticism for his anti-Islamic rhetoric during his presidential campaign and for his administration’s efforts to impose a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.
Pence didn’t acknowledge the planned walkout, in which dozens of students and family members reportedly left at the start of his speech and were booed.
But he alluded to clashes at campuses elsewhere that have derailed appearances by controversial speakers, such as conservative firebrand Ann Coulter at the University of California at Berkeley.
“This university (Notre Dame) is a vanguard of the freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas at a time, sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America,” Pence said.
The rest of Pence’s speech also focused on faith and conservative principles like protecting Norte Dame and other groups from having to go against their religious beliefs to offer birth control coverage to employees under ObamaCare.
“Just as Notre Dame has stood strong to protect its religious liberty, I’m proud that this president just took steps to ensure that this university and the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to violate their consciences to fully participate in American civic life,” Pence said.
He also praised Trump for his speech earlier in the day to the leaders of 50 Arab and Muslim nations earlier in the day in Saudi Arabia.
Pence said the president “spoke out against religious persecution of all people of all faiths and on the world stage he condemned, in his words, the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians.”
Earlier in the ceremony, valedictorian Caleb Joshua Pine urged a “stand against the scapegoating of Muslims” and criticized Trump’s push to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Cassandra Dimaro and her parents were among those who walked out. Dimaro told the South Bend Tribune that it was a show of solidarity “for those of us impacted by the policies of the Trump administration.”
“Notre Dame is exceptional,” Pence also said. “This university stands without apology for human freedom and the inherent dignity of every human person, and it holds fast to the faith that gave it birth.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.