By the time former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh was done speaking Thursday at IU, tears ran down his face.
Bayh, who graduated from IU’s law school in 1960, received a 40-second standing ovation at the IU School of Law after he told the story of how seven Yale law students helped bring down President Richard Nixon’s nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bayh used the anecdote to illustrate how anyone – even students – could change the world, which he said was the reason he got into politics.
“A lot of young people today, like I did at your age, want to make a difference,” Bayh said.
Bayh’s speech was titled “Separation of Church and State: As Important Today as in the 18th Century.” He began with an autobiographical story of his faith as he grew up.
Bayh said he didn’t want to use the forum to make a political message.
“But since you asked...” he said after one question.
During the question-and-answer session with guests, Bayh tackled issues such as abortion, gay rights, Sarah Palin, faith-based organizations, creationism and more.
One of the biggest applause lines came when Bayh talked about protecting life.
“To practice the sanctity of life for nine months and forget it for 90 years, I don’t understand that,” Bayh said.
Attendees were impressed by Bayh’s charisma, including Sam Alex, 24, of Bloomington.
“I can see why he accomplished what he did,” Alex said.
Bayh is credited with authoring the 25th and 26th Amendments and was the principal sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment – which was never ratified by the states.
Guests also appreciated Bayh’s sincerity.
“He was getting pretty choked up,” said Phil Hanley, a 1995 IU graduate who heard Bayh speak at his commencement. “I was getting pretty choked up, too. He knows how to tell a story.”
Throughout the speech Bayh spoke about his record of defending equality.
“I would rather err on greater degree of tolerance than intolerance, than to even a little bit of intolerance,” Bayh said.
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