How the University arbitrarily silenced free speech for students

Claire Chretien

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Last week, The University of Alabama recently displayed a chilling willingness to completely disregard students’ rights to free speech just because some UA students found Bama Students for Life’s display about abortion in the Ferguson Center “offensive.”

Earlier this month, I filmed a university official citing a nonexistent policy that forbids “offensive or graphic material” in the Ferg display cases. She explained to me that if they “receive complaints,” they “have to take it down.”

The display provided factual information about mothers killed by legal abortion, late-term abortion in the United States and the harm abortion causes to pre-born humans. It also contained small photos of abortion victims – photos of which the authenticity can be confirmed via an affidavit from a former abortionist.

Bama Students for Life understands that abortion is often a painful experience for the mother. Our display case memorialized abortion’s forgotten victims, women who have been killed by legal abortions, as well as the pre-born humans it kills by poisoning or dismembering them. It wasn’t erected to shame anyone, but rather to express the truth about abortion. We have a right to express this truth, particularly to peers who are considering making the life-ending decision of abortion.

The notion that anyone has the right to silence another’s opinion simply because he or she is offended by it is nothing short of absurd and, thankfully, has been struck down by many major court cases related to free speech.

Many posters in the Ferg could arbitrarily be labeled “offensive” or “graphic.” Bulletin boards in the Ferg have displayed posters related to the consequences of sex and an ad for UA dance and theatre’s “Blood Wedding” program that featured blood-stained glass superimposed over a picture of a bride and groom. Last year, the Ferguson Center theater hosted a performance of The Vagina Monologues. Auditioning for this play required parental permission for students under 19 due to its “strong content.”

Students at public universities have a right to express their beliefs, whether by distributing literature, hosting events or putting up a display case. It’s deeply unsettling that the University is claiming it has the right to censor what it wishes if someone complains.

Imagine the outrage that would ensue if I claimed that the gory nature of the “Blood Wedding” advertisement upset me and demanded the Ferg remove it. If students complained about every single poster or display case in the Ferg, would the University then remove every single one?

As a practicing member of the Roman Catholic Church, events or posters on campus frequently offend me and my beliefs, but my feelings are not, nor should they be, the criteria for what kind of expression is allowed on a public university campus – the First Amendment is.

Free speech isn’t a right reserved for liberal elites or school clubs that focus on uncontroversial issues. It doesn’t exist so we can talk about the weather. It exists to protect the “offensive” speech that the University is so desperately trying to censor.

Claire Chretien is a junior majoring in American studies and is the president of Bama Students for Life. Her column runs biweekly.