By Kathleen Gilbert
SOUTH BEND, Indiana, May 22, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Dozens of pro-life protesters arrested at the University of Notre Dame on May 17 for protesting President Obama's commencement speech will be heading back to Indiana in coming weeks from all across the country to stand trial. While Notre Dame had pro-life demonstrators summarily arrested for "criminal trespassing," witnesses say that pro-Obama demonstrators were given free roam of the campus - a fact that the pro-lifers' attorney says violated the Equal Protection clause.
Among those arrested that day was Karen Torres of Virginia, who told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) how, after getting lost trying to reach the highway from Notre Dame, she and her husband stumbled upon what appeared to be President Obama's motorcade route. The couple parked at the Notre Dame Federal Credit Union, pulled out a sign that read "Shame on Notre Dame," and headed toward the sidewalk, but a South Bend policeman quickly ordered them to leave.
Unaware that the Credit Union was part of Notre Dame's campus, Karen decided to stand her ground, and was arrested and charged with criminal trespass. Karen's husband, who stayed behind to call relatives, says the area where Mrs. Torres had been arrested was soon "filled with people holding pro-Obama signs," who were permitted to remain at the curb near the motorcade route to cheer the president.
The couple told LSN that when they asked why the other people were not getting arrested, the policeman "just shrugged and ... said that you refused to leave."
"So basically, I got arrested for holding the wrong kind of sign," said Mrs. Torres. The couple says they had been the only pro-life protesters they could discern in the area.
Mrs. Torres was later released after posting bail. The couple will return to Indiana on June 3 for an arraignment.
This is not the first time the Torres have made waves in the pro-life world: they are the parents-in-law of Susan Torres, the Alexandria woman who in 2005 attracted headlines around the world by miraculously giving birth after three months on life support, following a cancer-induced stroke.
Concerning Notre Dame's conditions for criminal trespass, Torres explained to LSN that pro-lifers were warned during the commencement that they were only allowed to enter the campus if they carried no signs. "We could not go in with any signs or any t-shirts or anything that spoke badly of Notre Dame or Obama," he said.
Most of the pro-lifers arrested that day purposefully entered campus grounds to be arrested, carrying symbols including a large cross, photographs of aborted children, and images of Mary.
Catherine Wilson, the media relations director at the South Bend prosecutor's office, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) today that none of the charges against those arrested have been dropped. Wilson declined to give further information on the cases, citing "ethical restrictions."
Notre Dame Spokesman Dennis Brown did not return a request for comment from LSN.
Attorney Tom Dickson, who will represent the cases, told LSN that, "It's a constitutional law question."
In the 1886 case Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the attorney noted, the Supreme Court ruled that selectively arresting individuals violated the Equal Protection clause. Dickson also pointed to the 1946 Marsh v. Alabama case, in which it was decided that to the degree that a private institution opens its grounds to the general public, its right to curb their free speech activities is limited.
"Those are both issues that are going to be fully aired in these cases, if the matters aren't properly disposed of," said Dickson.
Dickson confirmed that all his clients have returned to their home states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, and Texas, but will have to return to Indiana in coming weeks for their trials.
Asked whether Notre Dame had been involved in the cases, Dickson said: "the only response I got from Notre Dame was that they weren't interested in sitting down and trying to discuss these matters, that they were ... out of their hands."
While Obama addressed Notre Dame's commencement and received an honorary law degree, over 40 pro-lifers were put in jail or police custody for trespassing. Among those arrested were Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of Roe vs. Wade, Alan Keyes, and Fr. Norman Weslin, the Founder of Lambs of Christ.
To contact University of Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins: