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Sacred Heart University's President Defends Decision To Host Trump Rally

Donald Trump will speak Saturday at SHU. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Sacred Heart University President John Petillo Photo Credit: Skip Pearlman

FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Sacred Heart University in Fairfield may be hosting Donald Trump's campaign rally on Saturday evening, but the event is not an endorsement of the Republican presidential candidate, the school's president said a statement.

"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," SHU President John Petillo said in a weekly blog post. The Roman Catholic university has a longstanding policy of opening its doors to a variety of speakers and promoting open dialogue, he said.

"Over the years, we have made our facilities available to community leaders, politicians and presidential candidates from across the political spectrum," wrote Petillo, noting how the school was asked to rent out the venue due to its "proximity, accessibility and availability." Before the Connecticut primary in April, for example, SHU hosted a Town Hall-style forum for GOP candidate John Kasich .

Petillo said the school has received "a great deal of feedback — both positive and negative" since Trump's campaign announced the rally, which is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

"There have been hundreds of requests for tickets, and there have been negative responses based on opposition to his philosophies, opinions and pronouncements," Petillo wrote. "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."

Petillo said SHU understands that reaction but said any political candidate would garner 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," he wrote.

"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," Petillo said.

"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."

Read the full blog post — headlined "Informed Decisions Are Driven By Listening" — from SHU President John Petillo at the Sacred Heart University website .

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