Thursday, April 11, 2013

Santorum’s Speaking…. No, He’s Not… Yes, He Is!

The news was exciting: 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was going to speak to an all-school assembly at Grosse Pointe South High School.
Santorum, a Catholic social conservative who opposes same-sex marriage, had been invited by the student group Young Americans for Freedom, an organization of politically conservative students which has active chapters in both of Grosse Pointe, Michigan’s public high schools, Grosse Pointe North and South. Young Americans for Freedom had raised $18,000 to pay for Santorum to speak and had invited more than 2,000 people, including local politicians and students from Grosse Pointe North, to attend the talk.


But plans changed on Monday, April 8, when the school district announced that the assembly had been cancelled after Rep. Santorum was asked for an advance copy of his speech and declined to provide it. Grosse Pointe South’s principal, Matt Outlaw, told parents in an email that instead of the special assembly, they should plan for a regular school day for their children.
District spokesperson Rebecca Fannon called the cancellation “the result of some staff sharing additional information about Santorum” as well as other factors—including the fact that the assembly had been scheduled during school hours, whereas previous speakers, such as Martin Luther King Jr., spoke after school hours. Santorum’s conservatism was apparently a problem, as well; Fannon expressed her conviction that activities during school hours at a public school should remain neutral.


On the website for his nonprofit organization Patriot Voices, Rick Santorum issued a statement regarding the cancellation. Writing from Pennsylvania, Santorum said:
“It’s a sad day when liberal educators are allowed to influence young minds—extending free speech rights only to those who share their liberal views. I support traditional marriage; I believe marriage should be between one man and one woman. I’m not sure what the administrators in the Grosse Pointe Public School System are afraid of, but these students deserve the respect to form their own opinion on this important issue.
“Furthermore, anyone who has ever seen me speak knows I rarely use prepared text. In the case of Grosse Pointe High School—I was never asked for a copy of a speech, nor did I send one. This has nothing to do with the content of a speech, but rather the context of my convictions.”


But in response to the community uproar which resulted from the cancellation, the assembly has been rescheduled—with an important compromise. According to The Detroit News, the district announced at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10, that the presidential candidate will be permitted to speak. Parents will be sent an in-school permission form which must be signed and returned, if they want their students to hear the former presidential hopeful speak at the school.
In a prepared statement, spokesperson Rebecca Fannon said:
“The compromise was reached today between the Grosse Pointe Public School System administration and the South student club Young Americans for Freedom.
“The district recognizes Mr. Santorum’s leadership qualities, having served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995, and in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007. As part of an educational environment, we provide multiple opportunities for our students and staff to hear and examine various viewpoints.”
Fannon added that the primary focus of Santorum’s remarks, his office assured, will be on leadership and community service—two qualities which the school seek to instill in their students.
As of this writing, no response has been released by Santorum or the Patriot Voices office.
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Kathy Schiffer with Rick Santorum during a 2012 campaign stop

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