Anti-abortion demonstrators at a recent campaign rally for Vice
President Al Gore were rounded up by Secret Service at the Gonzaga
University event and confined to a pen similar to those used at
fairgrounds for farm animals.

The rally took place in the Martin Center at Gonzaga University, a
Catholic educational institution in Spokane, Wash. The first protesters
arrived around 3 p.m. for the afternoon rally and were held in the pen
until about 5:30 p.m.

Carrying signs that read, “Gonzaga Alumni for Bush,” “Catholics vote
pro-life” and “Tell Al Gore honesty matters,” about two dozen protesters
positioned themselves near the entrance to the Martin Center where they
could interact with attendees lined up to enter the hall for the Oct. 23
rally. According to demonstration participants, Secret Service agents,
a Spokane police detective and the director of campus security asked
protesters to remove their signs from sticks. A few minutes later, the
group was told by event security to relocate to a pen about 100 yards
from the center’s entrance, protesters say.

Anti-abortion protesters outside the Gore rally at Gonzaga University Monday.

The pen, which was made of horizontal metal bars and stood about four
feet high, is said to resemble livestock holding cells frequently found
on fairgrounds.

“We felt like second-class citizens,” said protester Erin Galle. “We
felt like we were caged like cows.”

Protester Cindy Omlin, a Gonzaga alumna, class of ’79, said she does not
understand why a group of Catholics was not allowed to freely express
their orthodox views on a Catholic university campus. When she asked for
the reason behind the group’s relocation, Omlin was told by a Secret
Service agent that it was “policy,” but she was not given an answer when
inquiring about whose policy it was.

“I was basically stunned that the viewpoint that was faithful to the
Catholic faith of the university was a viewpoint that was squelched with
the collaboration of the university staff,” said Omlin.

Officials at the university say they were not involved in the decision
to relocate the protesters. In fact, Dale Goodwin, director of public
relations for the university, personally talked to Secret Service agents
on duty at the rally after Omlin called him from the holding pen on her
cellular phone.

Goodwin, who said the university was saddened by the treatment of the
protesters, was told a Secret Service advance team had scoped out the
campus the Friday before the event and had sectioned off the protester
area. He asked if other arrangements could be made for the group, but
the agents said they could not change the plans of the advance team,
Goodwin said.

The official noted the university had received many calls from people
complaining about Gore’s appearance at the Catholic school. But Goodwin
explained that Gonzaga has a history of providing a venue for political
figures.

“It’s the vice president of the United States,” he said. “If Gov. Bush
would have called, we would have said the same thing.”

“Yes, we disagree with his position on abortion decidedly,” Goodwin
continued. “But that’s not to say that in a presidential election it’s
not a good idea to hear all sides in a political discussion.”

The school official went on to say that one of the duties of the
university is to facilitate critical thinking in students, encouraging
them to hear all sides of issues.

“It’s one of those tough situations for a Catholic institution,” he
remarked. “We don’t take great pride in the fact that so many people
were upset by this — that Gore came to the campus. It’s not a feeling
of satisfaction at all, but we still think it was the right thing to
do.”

Omlin maintains, however, that all sides of the abortion debate were not
heard at the rally.

“There was no critical thinking allowed here, because the opposing
viewpoint was not allowed. It was actually a pep rally supporting Al
Gore,” she said. “And I haven’t heard one argument yet from the
university that holds water. You can’t have critical thinking unless
all viewpoints are allowed on the table.”

Gore rented the Martin Center for the event at which school cheerleaders
and popular university sports players made appearances.

“It was really hypocritical to me for the university to claim it was not
endorsing or supporting Al Gore when such important representatives of
the university led the cheering and led the honor for Al Gore,” she
said.

“It was a very oppressive feeling to know that an institution bound to
share the light of the truth would squelch the truth,” Omlin continued.
“It felt like, at this Catholic university, the gospel of life was being
put in jail on the grounds of Catholic property. It was humiliating.”

“We’re the ones being faithful to the mission of the university,” she
added. “What happened was a scandal, and it undermined the mission of
the university.”

A separate protest group of Gonzaga students praying the Rosary refused
to be put in the holding pen when they were approached by Secret Service
agents. The students moved to another location near the Martin Center
after showing their school identifications.

Gore campaign staff did return repeated calls for comment on the event.

 


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