Guest viewpoint: Abortions rights activists’ actions defy UO Free Speech Policy

This piece reflects the view of the author and not those of Emerald Media Group.

This Tuesday, our campus was visited by a campus preacher who chose to express his views against abortion.

In what was likely an attempt to draw large crowds, he held large graphic posters. One depicted an unborn fetus. While we don’t necessarily agree with this man’s viewpoint or his controversial medium for expressing it, what was more abhorrent was the students’ childish reaction to this man’s display and the blatant disregard for free speech. Atrociously, many students chose to be loud, veracious individuals with complete disregard for common decency and respect. Some students thought it was necessary to call the police in order to silence this man.

For some reason, the UOPD officer who showed up seemed to be professionally clueless about free speech rights. The officer threatened to kick the man off campus, ambiguously citing an ASUO rule, while not even knowing what the ASUO is.

He also told students that “the conversation back and forth needs to stop” and that “f­bombs” were not allowed. He told the campus preacher that talking about Hitler was not allowed on campus and that he did not have a right to hold his sign.

“This is a private business” the officer told the campus preacher. “On campus we have other rules other than just freedom of speech, ok? […] It’s just as if you were to walk into Winco and they have a no hat, no shoes, no service sign or whatever the heck it is.”

Despite the fact that many of us have been in Winco many times without a hat, the officer is clearly clueless about the university’s actual policy in support of free speech as a cornerstone of education. Later, the police sergeant showed up and corrected his officer, allowing the man to express his views.

The students chose to make fools of themselves instead of trying to engage in an intellectual conversation. Quickly, students started shouting that he had no right to be there sharing his opinion. At one point a student claiming to have just come out of a first amendment law class stated incorrectly that the constitution does not protect offensive language. All the while abusing him with a deluge of cursing and criticism that would make any hardened sailor cringe; the student’s, by their own logic, committed hateful, offensive speech with their childish insults.

More than one student came up the this man and ripped the sign out of his hands and attempted to destroy it. “Go ahead, call the police” said Allison Rutledge while standing on the man’s sign and trying to destroy it.

This act of aggression and defacement should’ve been stopped by the UOPD officers who complacently witnessed the scene. Quickly the mob mentality of this incident turned into a competition amongst the angry tudents to see who would be most adamant about their disapproval.

Their acts demonstrate no understanding of the UO Free Speech Policy which reads “The University supports free speech with vigor, including the right of presenters to offer opinion, the right of the audience to hear what is presented, and the right of protesters to engage with speakers in order to challenge ideas, so long as the protest does not disrupt or stifle the free exchange of ideas.

It is the responsibility of speakers, listeners and all members of our community to respect others and to promote a culture of mutual inquiry throughout the University community.”

This Tuesday was a dark day on campus, and we are embarrassed to be apart of this campus community. While we were disappointed that this man was choosing such a graphic medium for sharing views that vilify a group and marginalize their rights, we were far more disappointed in the student body, and their inability to calmly and logically engage in discourse with the diverse viewpoints that find their way on to campus.

In the words of enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Signed, Thomas Tullis, President of UO Young Americans for Liberty

Brandon Clements, VP of UO Young Americans for Liberty

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