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The difference between free speech & forcing views on others

The Channels Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

THE CHANNELS EDITORIAL BOARD

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Freedom of speech must be protected, but with this fundamental right to express one’s views — no matter how politically or ethically contentious they may be — comes the responsibility to express them respectfully and refrain from forcing those views on others.

The most recent group to bring politically charged opinions to campus is Project Truth, a pro-life group that demonstrated this week in front of the Luria Library. It finds abortions to be morally unacceptable under almost all circumstances, including after becoming pregnant from rape, and used graphic imagery and informational pamphlets to convey its views.

The Channels Editorial Board firmly supports the right of this group’s members to express their views, but we do have a moral disagreement with them: it was wrong for them to coercively display large, disturbing images of human figures soaked in blood in a location that essentially forced people to see them.

These images were intentionally used to provoke the public and convince people of the immorality of abortion. Having been supposedly taken from clinics that provide abortions, the reasoning is if you are appalled by the images, you should be appalled by abortion.

The group certainly had the legal authority to be present on campus. The First Amendment prevents the government from abridging our freedom of speech, and according to City College’s recently passed free speech policy, the group was in a designated free speech zone.

The group’s right to be there was never challenged. Many of the protestors on West Campus earlier this week were there to pressure the group to take down the images, not censor the group’s message. The students merely didn’t want to have to look at obscene images on their way to class.

As college students, we don’t come to college to feel comfortable — we come here to learn, and at times that will mean being exposed to views that we vehemently disagree with or that make us extremely uncomfortable. City College should encourage expressions of views which take us out of our ideological comfort zone. But, displaying this kind of imagery is obscene and inconsiderate, no matter how seemingly righteous the cause.

These images could have easily been conveyed to the public without forcing them on passers-by, and the group’s members did have the means to do so through the informational brochures they handed out. If they had limited the imagery to these brochures, it would simply be expression of free speech, but by making exposure to these images compulsory, it became a violation of basic decency.

Just as we wouldn’t want animal rights activists to shove images of decapitated pigs in our faces while we are eating bacon, we do not want to have to view large, gory images of bulls, chickens, humans or any other living beings on our way to class.

Please feel free to express your views until the cows come home — just don’t bully others into accepting them.

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4 Comments

4 Responses to “The difference between free speech & forcing views on others”

  1. Mark McIntire on October 5th, 2018 3:53 pm

    Dear Editorial Board,

    Congratulations on a well reasoned opinion on what campus free speech entails and what it does not entail on a tax-payer funded campus of higher learning. In part, I concur with your editorial, and in part I dissent from it. Writing as a tax-payer, I applaud the evolution of the college’s thinking on the exercise of speech that many find offensive, even repugnant. My institutional history remembers only a few years ago when a similar group of ‘pro-life’ anti-abortion citizens also appeared on SBCC campus and were confronted by students who objected to their message and the graphic pictures of abortion victims. Then, these citizens, and their bloody images were confronted by campus security at the behest of a dean. They were then ‘escorted’ off campus to the delight of these who took offense both to the images and the message that conveyed by the images.

    This week the story is different and more tolerant of the free exercise of speech that offends some. Citizens with the same message and with similar images were not tossed off campus and silenced as they were a few years ago. They were, as the Bill of Rights protects, free to express their views peacefully. Great! Progress is being made.

    My dissent, voiced also as a tax-payer focuses on two points made in the editorial. I dissent from the major premise of your editorial as you express it in your very first paragraph, thus,

    “Freedom of speech must be protected, but with this fundamental right to express one’s views — no matter how politically or ethically contentious they may be — comes the responsibility to express them respectfully and refrain from forcing those views on others.”

    In the first place, the 1st Amendment actually reads as follows:

    “Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment )

    After several readings, much reflection, and winning a few court cases on this topic over 50 years, I find no Constitutional language that limits the exercise of these rights to what others consider ‘respectful’. The First Amendment makes no prescription on any “…responsibility to express them respectfully and refrain from forcing those views on others.” Equally, I find no language in the Constitution that defines ‘forcing’ views on others let alone proscribe same. Neither does your editorial opinion define ‘forcing views on others’. Your editorial does voice objection to the graphic images of bloody fetuses. However, constitutionally, since those images, the medium, ARE the message your objection is baseless ,however earnest. As philosopher and professor, Marshall McLulhan famously quipped in 1963, “The medium is the message.” (source: https://medium.com/@obtaineudaimonia/the-medium-is-the-message-by-marshall-mcluhan-8b5d0a9d426b)

    My second level of dissent concerns this passage from your editorial opinion, thus,

    If they had limited the imagery to these brochures, it would simply be expression of free speech, but by making exposure to these images compulsory, it became a violation of basic decency.

    By that logic, for example, the American and California flags displayed outside the Luria Library should be taken down because some students find them ‘disrespectful’ and a violation ‘basic decency’ since they are ‘compelled’ to look upon images they believe represent slavery or colonialism. Those terms, ‘respectful’ and ‘ basic decency’ are not objective terms, they are subjective terms. They are, what we call in philosophy, ‘value laden terms’. Equally, the Constitution does not protect any citizen from encountering inconsiderate, abhorrent, disgusting, offensive, and/or disrespectful images in any public place. Stare decisis (standing case law) is universally supportive of such images being well within the constitutional expressions of free speech in public places, and the college is a public place since it is tax-funded.

    On a final note, I wish to point out that many states have now taken the legal position that no tax-funded college/university has the constitutional right to declare what a ‘free-speech zone’ is or is not. As other states follow suit, this debate about ‘free-speech zones’ will ultimately be ruled on by SCOTUS. This line of legal thinking has, as it’s major premise, that every single square inch of America is a free-speech zone, and by deduction, restricting free-speech to a few feet of a public place is manifestly unconstitutional.

    “Floyd Abrams, the noted First Amendment attorney, told the Senate (Judiciary Committee) panel that while such debates can be painful that were useful and had remedies.The answer to the suppression of almost any speech, the First Amendment answer, cannot be to limit expression but to discuss it, not to bar offensive speech but to answer it. Or to ignore it. Or to persuade the public to reject it.” (source: https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-boundaries-of-free-speech-at-public-colleges)

    Thank you for writing your editorial opinion and thank you for welcoming opposing views on this topic. Best wishes for a successful semester.

    Ciao bella !

    Mark McIntire
    American Tax-payer
    Santa Barbara, California

  2. Celeste Barber on October 6th, 2018 10:13 am

    My response to The Channels editorial takes issue with one word: “but.” The opening sentence begins: “Freedom of speech must be protected, but . . .” That single word is what our Founders fought and bled and died to oppose in order that it be replaced by another word, “freedom”: the word, ironically, that opens your editorial.

    First, though, disclosure. I am pro-choice. Also, I am passionate about the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment the most important of the ten. (Just like the first of the Bible’s Ten Commandments; without the first, all subsequent commandments / amendments are moot.)

    The college newspaper’s chief grievance with Project Truth, a student group, is that the images they show are “obscene” — your words — and forced upon fellow students who may or may not wish to be subjected.

    Let’s consider that word, “obscene” again, in the context of the First Amendment. I can readily picture other images that are even more painful to see. There’s the photographs of piles of bodies, images recorded by the GI’s who liberated the Nazi death camps. Remember those? They looked like stick figures, not real human beings. That’s obscenity.

    Then there are the two famous photographs from the Vietnam War era, pictures that anyone alive back then remembers vividly from the front pages of our newspapers. Those would be the public execution of a Viet Cong in the streets of Saigon, at the moment the gun is fired into his head. The second, the photograph of a young girl running naked after having been burned by Napalm. We do not, nor every will, censor disturbing images or disturbing ideas in the United States.

    We are living through a troubling period, precisely because our Constitution is under ever increasing threat from the institutions that are here to protect that document: our elected officials, our press, and our educational institutions. On any given day, there are examples from any of the three where opposing ideas are pummeled, derided, and silenced.

    In fact, I remember three years ago this past spring, when the First Amendment was dismantled and no one on campus defended it, including this newspaper as I recall. That was the infamous “teepee” incident. A group of art students and their instructor constructed a colorful teepee on the West Campus lawn. One person took offense, claiming that it was “cultural appropriation” of his Native American heritage. The lovely structure I saw on a Friday was dismantled by the following Monday, with Mea Culpas sent across campus from the college president.

    Forgotten was that the temporary structure was erected mid-semester, intended as a place of respite for students enduring the stress of midterm exams. Forgotten, too was our precious right to artistic freedom, guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

    Back in the 1980’s Martin Scorcese’s film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” got slammed hard by the Conservative Christian right. The movie was censored in many places, and very nearly here in Santa Barbara. However, after Metro Theatres dropped the movie, the old Victoria Theatre stepped in. I was a Bill of Rights girl even back then, so I took my husband and we schlepped to the theatre to watch it — principally on principle. To stand up for the First Amendment by sitting down for an hour, forty minutes.

    Following the show, we were met by peaceful protesters who offered us handouts that were, as the gentleman explained to us, “To give the other side.” I declined the offer, but I respected his right and others to be there. Just as I had the right to see a movie. Just as Chaucer’s Bookstore had the right to showcase Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel during those weeks.

    Just as the student group, Project Truth, has the right to do so today. Amen.

  3. John Ficker on October 7th, 2018 8:12 am

    As a volunteer of Project Truth, I so appreciate the many respectful students our team members met at SBCC.
    I also enjoyed reading the well written articles and editorial by The Channels, even though I would take issue with many things written. Celeste Barber, your comment was spot on to the real issue of “ Free Speech”
    Our team met many students like. Celeste, that though they didn’t necessarily agree with our position on abortion, they engaged us in a great exchange of ideas. I believe good education requires such exchanges, otherwise you are left with indoctrination.
    I would love to hear the reaction of Pro-Choice supporters to this statement from Feminist writer, Naomi Wolf:
    “ The Pro-choice movement often treats with contempt the pro-lifer’s practice of holding up to our faces their disturbing graphics… (But) how can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? … to insist that truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted with them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view is unworthy of feminism.”
    Like Celeste I so appreciate Naomi Wolf’s intellectual honesty. This World would be a better place if we could listen to each other with respect and not just try and all live in our own comfortable echo chambers. Let’s talk and try and understand each other and pursue truth together. The Truth will set us free.

  4. May I Not Clang on October 10th, 2018 12:40 am

    Thank you for recognizing that the “disturbing images of human figures” were indeed human. I find genocide disturbing where it may be found. It may be an inconvenient truth for some, but I believe in equality for all. Especially those who are acted upon in the womb who truly have no where to turn.

According to the Student Press Law center, several professional news outlets have recently revamped or removed their online comment sections in an attempt to create more civilized discourse. The Channels encourages readers to use our comment section. We view it as a forum for our students and local community to discuss the news that we publish. In an open forum like this, readers are free to express themselves with certain guidelines. The Channels will refrain from approving the publication of comments that are: promoting private materials, containing personal contact information, personal attacks towards our staff, threatening or disparaging, libelous, an invasion of privacy towards the writer or source, obscene or hateful, or content that does not adhere to The Channels or community standards.

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