Most of the buzz on the internet is about the first policeman who tried to defuse a potentially violent confrontation by telling the main protestor that he did not have the right to free speech on a private university campus. He almost succeeded in getting the protestor to hide his offensive signs.
When the sargeant showed up, he overruled his officer and told the protestor he could display his signs and stay on the campus. I agree with the sergeant but I have a great deal of sympathy with what the first policeman was trying to do.
In any case, the issue that troubles me is the behavior of the students before the first policeman shows up and after both policemen leave, beginning around 15 minutes. A student, Allison Rutledge, tries to destroy the protestor's sign.
Here's how the University of Oregon newspaper reports it [Protesters damage graphic anti-abortion sign following heated debate on UO campus].
“There’s a limit to what people should be forced to look at,” Rutledge said. “We didn’t like it and we actually made him put his sign away. We had no problem with his opinion, but it was his sign. You can’t just show whatever you want.”By the end of the video it looks like the anti-abortion protestors are getting ready to leave. I suspect they were afraid they would be harmed by the small crowd of students. I think they were right to be afraid.
The Oregon Supreme Court in 1984 ruled that any censorship of material considered obscene is unconstitutional.
After Rutledge’s back-and-forth with the activist, other protesters began to call for his dismissal from campus.
“This is our campus and we don’t want it — we don’t want you and your ugliness,” another unidentified woman said in the video.
“This is so violent. This is obscene,” the woman told the anti-abortion activist. “This is not part of your First Amendment rights. This is unbelievable.”
Although Rutledge and the other protesters didn’t violate the activist’s First Amendment rights — that’s only a claim that can be used when the government attempts to suppress speech — Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank Lomonte said that liability for theft or battery comes into play when personal property is involved.
“It’s never a good idea to use violence to silence a person whose speech you find upsetting,” Lomonte said.
What do YOU think, dear readers? Did these University of Oregon students behave in a way that would make you proud if you were a student there?
And what do you think of the idea that the university campus belongs to undergraduates, "get off our campus." And even if you accept that premise (I don't), does that small group of students speak for all undergraduates?