Editors Blog: First Amendment rights exceed individual political opinions
Freedom of speech is justified for all external groups on campus, regardless of individual issues
This morning, protesters from the Columbus-based anti-abortion group Created Equal came to Otterbein University to speak with students outside the Campus Center.
Protestors from this organization, who are known to display graphic images of aborted fetuses, typically visit Otterbein once each semester, and each occurrence sparks outrage from Otterbein students on social media.
"Hey Otterbein people. The pro-life group is out in front of the CC [Campus Center] with their horrible signs again. Please share with anyone who might be affected," tweeted one student. The tweet was retweeted by 13 other people.
Another student expressed discontent about the protestors themselves.
"A white, heterosexual man just approached me to talk about abortion rights and equality, and I think something is wrong with this picture," she tweeted. The tweet received over 40 likes, many from other students.
Despite how students feel about the protestors, the university recognizes external groups' rights to freedom of speech. According to university policy, external groups, like Created Equal, have the right to peacefully assemble on public property. This includes the sidewalk in front of the Campus Center.
External groups also have the right to verbally exercise their freedom of speech and display pictures as long as they do not violate any criminal law. This includes comments and images that may be offensive, such as the signs displaying graphic images of abortion.
Though the university holds First Amendment rights to a higher standard than individual political opinions, others are unwilling to recognize this basic freedom.
In the past, Created Equal's presence on campus caused enough outrage that Otterbein students initiated proposals to buy public property from the local government.
During a 2015 protest involving Created Equal, an Otterbein University Student Government (OUSG) senator proposed buying the sidewalk in front of the Campus Center from the city of Westerville to remove the protestors from the property. This is a direct violation of First Amendment rights. Though the student senator said this was not an act of attempting to censor the protestors, a community affairs administrator made it clear that public sidewalks are not for sale.
Since 2015, students have actively engaged in counter-protests, like the one that happened today. Pairs of students gathered outside the Campus Center to hold bed sheets in front of the image displays.
Students said they felt the organization is "too intrusive" and that they were "advocating for safety on campus" by blocking the images from view.
"I agree with them," said Evangeline Dunn, a media representative for Created Equal. "These images are disturbing and disgusting. But we should not be upset with the pictures themselves, but with the actions taking place in the pictures. The images are graphic because abortion is graphic."
In a Twitter poll issued by T&C Media, audiences were asked how they felt about Created Equal's right to free speech on campus. After 24 votes, individuals were tied between supporting their rights and finding the organization to be too problematic to support their First Amendment rights.
As a community that prides itself on diversity and inclusion of all perspectives, how can we label any organization as too "problematic" to deserve access to fundamental rights like freedom of speech?
Abortion is and will remain a politically divisive issue. However, abortion is an issue that all people, regardless of race, sexuality or gender should be able to peacefully discuss with others. Regardless of what is being protested, an individual's opinion on the issue is not relevant to an organization's right to protest in a public space.