By Emily Conley
“The Student Union is for all students. So we have to keep it happy for all of them,”
Claire Chretien wasn’t trying to make trouble, but the irony of the University of Alabama official’s words didn’t escape her.
Claire and the Bama Students For Life (BSFL) club reserved a display case in the Student Union for their tri-fold poster showing that abortion is “Not Safe, Not Rare, Just Legal.” Baby socks hung in the background, and the poster’s folds revealed several facts about the harm caused by abortion, including two small photos of aborted babies and photos of young women who had died from botched abortions.
But days before their reserved time ended, Claire walked by the case and saw that the display had vanished. No one in the group had been notified, so as the president of the club, Claire went to investigate.
The official went on to tell Claire that the group was “lucky” to have had the display up for as long as they did. The official claimed that university policy allows her to remove displays that have “offensive or graphic material” because of “complaints”; but inexplicably, the university’s policy pertaining to display cases mentions nothing about offensive or graphic content. And previous displays in the Student Union that included nudity and graphic sexual materials were allowed despite the likelihood that some students would be offended by them.
Unlike the university official believed, there is no “right to not be offended.” And “being offended” is not a good reason to take away someone else’s free speech, which actually is a right. In fact, one of the purposes of the First Amendment is to ensure that speech that others may find offensive—particularly speech about religious or political issues like abortion—is protected from censorship. Especially important on a college campus, where different ideas should be freely shared and respectfully debated.
So, BSFL contacted Alliance Defending Freedom. We helped them craft a letter of complaint to the university, explaining their concern that the removal of the display violated the group’s constitutionally protected freedom of speech, and pointing out the other displays that weren’t evaluated by the same criteria.
Within days, Claire received an apology from the Student Center Union Director. He also offered options for dates to reinstate the display in the same glass case.
Now that their display is back up, the Bama Students For Life members realize “luck” had nothing to do with it. It took the courage and conviction for BSFL to stand up for their rights and reach out to us at Alliance Defending Freedom to defend them against censorship.
Why do you think it’s sometimes hard to accept the free speech of others, especially when it offends us? In your opinion, is this something we should try to do? Share your thoughts in the comments below.