Picture this: A person walks up to a wooden cross that represents the grave of a child who was killed and first kicks it before picking it up and tossing it aside.
A video provided to Campus Reform on Monday shows a student at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton (MUOH) vandalizing a pro-life display on campus known as the “Cemetery of Innocents.” The display, produced by the Students for Life group on campus, consists of numerous small crosses staked in the ground. In this particular case, each cross represents 10 babies that die by abortion each day. In case you can’t count the crosses in the video below, it is estimated that more than 1,700 babies are aborted in the U.S. each day.
But this wasn’t the first time this display has faced hostility on the MUOH campus.
This past fall, when the Students for Life group requested permission to put up a “Cemetery of the Innocents” display, they were told they would have to post trigger warning signs around campus, cautioning passersby that they might be offended by the display.
But the Students for Life members weren’t having it.
Not only would the signs openly discourage people from viewing the display, it would also force these pro-life students to communicate that the display was harmful, a message they didn’t agree with one bit.
So instead of caving to the school’s misguided demands, the students filed a lawsuit with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom. These students were wise enough to understand that they had a constitutional right to speak freely and without censorship—especially on a public university campus.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the university to change the policy that was unlawfully censoring student speech. The legal victory came in March of this year, and just a few weeks later, on April 8, the group put up the display without a trigger warning in sight.
Cue the vandals.
Ellen Wittman, who was president of the school club at the time of the lawsuit, was saddened by the vandalism. “It’s discouraging to see students so upset at free-speech and pro-life views they feel the need to vandalize our display,” Wittman told Campus Reform. “However, we are encouraged by the university’s quick response to the incident and their support for our display.”
The university, for its part, released a statement denouncing the vandalism. According to the statement, the students involved in the vandalism have been identified and “[t]he incident has been referred to the university’s Office of Ethics and Conflict Resolution for investigating."
While we don’t have any way of knowing the motives of the students who vandalized the display, there is never a good excuse for attempting to silence another person’s speech. Unfortunately, anyone who has been paying attention to what’s happening on campus recently knows that universities are becoming increasingly hostile to any voices that differ from the prevailing leftist orthodoxy. And too often, instead of setting a strong example in support of free speech on campus, many school administrators are leading the charge to shut it down—appointing themselves speech police
Just look at what happened at Queens College in New York and Fresno State University in California. And these examples are not uncommon. At CSU-San Marcos, two aggressively leftist centers on campus receive $300,000 a year to advance their ideas. Meanwhile, the Students for Life chapter receives nothing. Discrimination against pro-life viewpoints is unacceptable, but it’s becoming the norm.
And things are getting worse. More and more often, mobs of students (often organized and aided by professors and administrators) try to shout down speakers they dislike or block people from attending those events. Ben Shapiro at California State University-Los Angeles and Charles Murray at Middlebury College provide vivid examples of this.
Either way, students learn all the wrong lessons: that the First Amendment does not really matter, that disruption or even violence is a proper response to ideas you do not like, and that free speech only extends to viewpoints with which you agree. And they carry this flawed thinking with them into the rest of society after graduation.
That’s why the ADF Center for Academic Freedom is working so hard to defend the First Amendment freedoms of all students. A college campus should be a marketplace of ideas. We need to encourage students to engage in passionate debate about the issues that mean so much to them. That’s what the members of the Students for Life group at MUOH were attempting to do. But instead of debate, they were greeted with aggression and hostility.
Taking all of that into consideration, is it really that surprising that a college student wouldn’t think twice before defacing a pro-life display on campus—even a self-described “inclusive” campus? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
Hopefully, the same officials who were so quick to fix their speech policies will use this vandalism as an opportunity to teach students that being part of a university community—indeed, being an adult in America—means that we must debate ideas, not censor them.