Former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator Joseph Robert Kerrey rescinded his acceptance of his invitation to speak at Creighton University’s commencement ceremony on May 18, the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., announced today via email to students and faculty.
Kerrey’s decision came after a press release from Nebraska GOP Executive Director Ryan Hamilton on Thursday, April 10, who urged Creighton to find a new speaker because of Kerrey’s pro-choice views.
“In his thoughtful letter, the senator wrote that ‘commencement should be a moment of celebration and not disrupted by politics,’” Hendrickson wrote in his email. “In closing, he explained, ‘My son is one of your graduates, and I feel a deep indebtedness to Creighton for the good you have done my family.’”
Hendrickson went on to say that he is “grateful for Senator Kerrey’s discernment regarding this important matter, and I appreciate his desire not to not have the focus of the day shifted away from our students.”
He said he and his team are working to find a new commencement speaker.
In the Nebraska GOP’s press release, they quoted Hamilton, saying, “‘Bob Kerrey voted five separate times against banning the grisly and inhumane practice of partial birth abortion while in the United States Senate...He has a lifetime score with the National Right to Life of just four percent, putting him in the company of some of the country’s most extreme abortion advocates.’”
In an interview, Hamilton said because Creighton is a Jesuit institution formally affiliated with the Catholic church, a “huge pro-life force in this country,” he opposes giving Kerrey a platform.
“I want to be clear on this,” Hamilton said. “When [Kerrey] had the opportunity to speak up for people that Creighton is meant to represent…Bob Kerrey voted against these people. He voted against the values and the issues that people at Creighton stand for.”
“We wanted to call attention to the disconnect between the values that exist at Creighton and the values that Bob Kerrey has spent a lifetime in his office promoting, which are two very different things,” Hamilton continued.
He also mentioned that the argument “seems a little hypocritical,” referencing the idea that Republicans “always want people to speak on campus.”
“The reality is we’re not trying to say, ‘Bob Kerrey, don’t speak.’ We’re not going to go interrupt the guy’s event; we’re not going to picket; we’re not going to shout him down or heckle him,” Hamilton said. “We just don’t think that individuals who spent their time in public office advancing ideas that are contrary to the values we hold dear should be given a place of prominence or a platform on which to speak. That just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
The Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb released a statement on Saturday, April 12 regarding the GOP’s demands.
“Sen. Kerrey lives his life defending our country and freedom of speech. Taking a page out of President Trump’s playbook, the Republican party is speaking out of both sides of their mouth,” Kleeb said. “On the one side, they are applauding Trump’s Executive Order on freedom of speech on college campuses, while on the other, they are asking a private university to cancel a speech because they do not agree with Sen. Kerrey’s words.”
Hendrickson stated that the former senator will still speak on campus this upcoming fall as a part of the Presidential Lecture Series.