Here's some pretty apalling news (well, apalling to me; you all may feel different) about a group of graduate students at Northern Kentucky University who dismantled an antiabortion display of about 400 crosses near the University Center. Language and literature professor Sally Jacobsen told the North Kentucky Enquirer that she encouraged her students, during a break from class, to "express their freedom-of-speech rights to destroy the display if they wished to."
But the "freedom of speech" issues here get pretty muddy when you consider that the act she encouraged was the destruction of a perfectly valid (if offensive to many people ... but hey, that's part of the deal) expression of free speech. The crosses, which were there to signify the protesters' mourning for terminated fetuses, had been erected with permission from NKU, which as a public university cannot ban symbolic speech. Jacobsen, who wouldn't comment on whether she herself pulled up any of the crosses, defended her students' actions thus: "Any violence perpetrated against that silly display was minor compared to how I felt when I saw it. Some of my students felt the same way, just outraged."
But if it had been a group of students who felt personally, morally or religiously offended when they saw reproductive health groups distributing sex-education pamphlets or birth control, would that give them the right to destroy the display? Believe me, as a staunch supporter of reproductive choice, I don't like seeing the crosses either, any more than I like seeing blown-up photos of mangled fetuses. But if there is a circumstance in which to talk about the "violence" of an antiabortion protest, it's when protesters are physically preventing women from getting into clinics for medical attention. When dealing with a peaceful display on a college campus, pro-choice activists fighting for basic freedoms for women in this country should be vigilant about not robbing others of their freedoms along the way.