"Shame on Seton Hall" was a slogan on
protesters' signs Friday outside of Seton Hall Law School as the university
honored a pro-abortion judge. Those sentiments were echoed in a statement
released by the Archbishop of Newark Wednesday.
The university has come under fire for awarding Judge Maryanne Trump Barry the Sandra Day O'Connor Medal of Honor, named after the associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The award honors women who have distinguished themselves in law and public service and is presented by three student groups: the Seton Hall Law Review, the Seton Hall Legislative Bureau and the Seton Hall Women's Law Forum.
The controversy is centered on Barry's 2000 decision that overturned New Jersey's ban on late-term abortions.
Newark Archbishop John Meyers, head of the university's board of trustees, responded to the public outcry created by the award with a statement printed on the front page of Wednesday's Catholic Advocate, the archdiocese's newspaper.
"For those who were shocked and dismayed by the action, I can only say that I share your sentiments," Meyers wrote. "Both Justice O'Connor and Judge Barry have demonstrated a lack of support for pro-life issues. I find this action profoundly offensive and contrary to the Catholic mission and identity of Seton Hall Law School, Seton Hall University and the Archdiocese of Newark."
Protests over the award were held during the event by The American Life League's Crusade for Defense of Our Catholic Church.
"The American Life League is here today because Seton Hall is a Catholic university and we don't believe that they should be hiring or honoring abortion supporters," said Joe Starrs, a member of ALL who came from Virginia for the protest. "We have a problem with the school honoring these people."
Natalie Thigpen, university spokeswoman, said there was a "serious lapse" in the choice of Barry for the award.
"As we have always stated, Seton Hall's commitment to the Gospel of life is absolute," Thigpen said in a statement. "The conferral of awards to people who publicly espouse views that are contrary to the university's fundamental Catholic identity is a serious lapse. There will be a thorough review of all aspects of this matter and the policies involved."
Some previous winners of the medal who also supported abortion rights include New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman.
The 1998 ceremony for Whitman was forced off campus by school officials because of her views on the issue.
This year's ceremony, which was attended not only by award namesake O'Connor but also by the recipient's brother, businessman Donald Trump, began as members from both local and out-of-state anti-abortion organizations walked the sidewalks outside the school's Newark Center building.
Protesters held signs with slogans proclaiming the recipient as a baby-killer and bestowing shame upon Seton Hall.
They circled the entrance of the Law School, monitored by Newark police, as guests walked into the event. Posters weren't the only visual representation of the protesters' outcries.
Clergy, chanting prayers, carried framed posters of both Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary while a billboard truck, bearing an image of a hand holding a bloody, mangled fetus, drove around the block.
"The truck just came out of the blue from the Center for Bioethical Reform," Erik Whittington, assistant director of Media Relations for the American Life League, said.
Lawyer Richard Collier, president of the Legal Center for the Defense of Life, said: "It's an outrage that we have two notorious pro-abortion judges honored at a Catholic law school. I would be protesting even if it weren't a Catholic school. Look at the school's Web site, how Catholic we are is posted everywhere. This is not an example of a Catholic school. What message is Seton Hall trying to send out here?"
The members of the ALL present at the protest encouraged the public to send letters of disapproval to the archbishop as well as University President Msgr. Robert Sheeran and Law School Dean Patrick Hobbs.
"The archbishop copped out ... He was condoning it by non-action," Starrs said. "This is a diocesan university. The archbishop could have pulled the plug at the snap of his fingers, but he chose not to. He should have done something about it."
Protester Peter Krueken Jr. said he found out about the protest via e-mails and an announcement at the New Jersey Right to Life Convention.
Some protesters even spoke of revoking their support for the school.
"I donate $750 a year (to Seton Hall), another $1,500 from my organization, and because of this, I'm thinking about not doing that anymore," Jack Olsen, a protester at the event and a graduate of Seton Hall's class of 1966, said. "I'm outraged at this Catholic university."
The members of the organizations speaking out against the award arrived at the school around 2:30 p.m. with plans to stay throughout the event.
"It is unconscionable for leaders of a Catholic intuition to allow an event to take place on their campus honoring a judge who has demonstrated a total disrespect for the sanctity and dignity of human life," Starr said via an ALL press release about the rally.
Meyers plans to proceed in a way to clarify the situation and prevent it in the future.
"Therefore, I am in the process of reviewing all aspects of the matter and determining the appropriate action to be taken," he wrote. "In the meantime, I urge all of us to continue to both pray and to act to change minds and hearts and to end the horror of abortion in our society and in our world."
Attempts to contact Trump Barry Wednesday night were unsuccessful.