Many wise people have observed that at parties and social events, it often is best to avoid discussing politics and religion. Little unites—or divides us—more fervently and passionately than strong beliefs that cut to our personal core. We all have witnessed how oblique rhetoric and pointed oratory can stir, enflame and encourage people to action, bring friends and associates together or turn brothers and sisters against one another.
Presidential political campaigns are fine theater, and the playbill this season has people out of their seats. As Americans, we embrace and value our democratic process, and we go to great lengths to ensure that all voices are heard, questions asked and answered and that opinions by those who wish to lead us are proffered in front of the largest possible audiences.
We may not agree with those opinions—in fact, we often disagree, sometimes vehemently—but these opportunities to test candidates’ mettle, consistency and true character are critical to helping us make this most profound choice: Which man or woman is best suited to lead our fine nation, represent the United States on the world stage and work with Congress to shape policy, elect supreme court justices and make decisions that will have profound short- and long-term implications for us, our families and our futures.
Tomorrow night, Donald J. Trump, the duly selected Republican nominee for president of the United States, will speak at Sacred Heart University. His appearance on our campus is by no means a political endorsement or effort to boost his campaign; nor is it a University-sponsored event. Over the years, we have made our facilities available to community leaders, politicians and presidential candidates from across the political spectrum. We were approached due to proximity, accessibility and availability and were asked if our venue could be rented so Mr. Trump could speak to voters and observers in this region.
It has long been our policy to open our doors to a wide variety of speakers on an equally diverse range of topics, regardless of party affiliation, religious beliefs, nationality, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Our goal then, as now, was to promote open dialogue. To do less would be an injustice to our students and to our commitment to providing our educational community the broadest possible exposure and learning.
In the short time since word of Mr. Trump’s scheduled appearance has spread, we have received a great deal of feedback—both positive and negative. There have been hundreds of requests for tickets, and there have been negative responses based on opposition to his philosophies, opinions and pronouncements. Some also have questioned whether—as a Catholic university—we should allow him access to our facilities, as some of his stances and proclamations appear contrary to our religious beliefs and values. We understand that reaction. We also know that any political candidate—and particularly the two main candidates running for president—would elicit similar responses. Should we use that criteria, we would eliminate candidates from both parties and would be absent from the discussion and the democratic process.
Mr. Trump would not be the first controversial person—nor will he be the last—to speak at our University, whether by design or circumstance. As a liberal arts institution, these opportunities provide our students and many diverse audiences the opportunity to assess the facts, observe the actions and measure a speaker’s words. Tolerance of and exposure to one another’s opinions and concerns is a foundation of the liberal arts and the Catholic intellectual tradition. With this first-hand knowledge, we are then better prepared to debate and determine for ourselves a person’s viability, legitimacy and competence. It is a vital step in the democratic process and an historic opportunity we are willing to provide.