Freedom of speech is a crucial part of a democracy. Without the ability to freely voice our opinions, how can we expect a system of checks and balances?
Though I love my right to freedom of speech (hello, I wouldn’t have this blog otherwise), it’s kind of a double-edged sword because people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson who spew hateful and misleading vitriol thrive from the protection it offers. Hate groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church hide behind First Amendment protections and considering that one of their slogans is ”God Hates Fags” (I feel gross even putting that in here, sorry y’all), it’s safe to say that freedom of speech gives everyone the right to say whatever they want as long as they aren’t actively promoting violence (which in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church is debatable).
But you know what? As much as I dislike the aforementioned people and groups, this is the United States of Am-URR-ika and we’re all entitled to our opinions and luckily, we live in a society where we can call out people like Limbaugh and at least try to hold them accountable for their hate speech.
Earlier this year in the United States v. Alvarez decision, the Supreme Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act (an act that may hold a citizen criminally liable for lying about receiving medals of honor) was a violation of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
So let’s sum it up, the First Amendment protects people who lie and do nothing but spread hate and it also allows people to lie about their lives and honors that they’ve received. Seriously. If I were to tell everyone in town that I won the Purple Heart and they elect me their mayor or something, I will not have committed a crime (I’d be a huge douchebag but laws don’t usually judge on how big of a douche you are).
Taking all this into consideration though, I’m very confused about why a Western Kentucky University student’s First Amendment rights are under attack (well, I know why, I’m just wondering how they can justify it).
As a response to this and as a part of a class assignment, a WKU art student placed condoms on 100 of the crosses. Her message, outlined in a statement, read in-part The statement read in-part, “For me, each condom represents an unwanted pregnancy that could have been prevented. The subject of abortion is an important issue, one that stirs strong and sometimes conflicting emotions. Nonetheless, the question was raised: How do we feel about abortion? This is my way of answering in turn, and expanding upon the discussion of sexual health, practices and consequences.
The backlash to the art student’s counter installation has been harsh, especially since Fox News jumped on the story. Not only is the school pressuring her to apologize they’ve also lied about her issuing an apology (stating she did when in fact she did not). She refuses to apologize and rightly so:
I do not feel that I should apologize for attempting to exercise the freedoms that we all are entitled to.
While I’m pro-choice and the idea of placing popsicle stick crosses at a school intending to represent an aborted fetus makes me cringe and laugh, I think that the Hilltoppers for Life (I initially had a typo here that said Hilltoppers for Choice… Freudian slip?) were well in their First Amendment rights with their installation… BUT so was the art student in question. Holding her accountable and trampling on her rights simply because it offended HTL is reprehensible. I mean, HTL offended me with their silly project that represented aborted fetuses but you don’t see me running around screaming about injustices and vandalism. The beauty of this country is that we’re allowed to have our opinion (as misguided as they may be) and we’re also allowed to refute others opinions if we disagree (as misguided as they may also be).
I won’t be able to give this story justice so I’m going to direct you guys to be fabulous Molly Kerby’s blog. Kerby is a professor of gender and women’s studies as WKU.
But before you click away, please remember that regardless of your beliefs, if the First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptish Church, the KKK, and Rush Limbaugh, it surely protects this art student and me and you.
Show her your support her through this petition. (I’m not sure how much this petition will actually accomplish but it’s the least we can do to show that we stand united with a woman who is willing to fight for all of our rights.)