The first amendment protects all speech

I like to think that a college campus is the one place where everyone is free to express their views without fear of retaliation.

We’re in our politically-correct bubble, where everyone has come to let their opinions be heard and learn from each other. All of the articles I read in my English Department senior seminar are written by someone reacting to someone else’s ideas.

Each author – revolutionary thinkers like Freud, Saussere and Derrida – brought something new to the literary landscape and explored human culture through carefully constructed arguments and articulate prose. What they didn’t do is rip each other’s painstakingly constructed pages apart and throw them on the ground.

I’m sitting here on the brink of graduating with a degree in English, a shelf-full of expensive books and no clue what I’m going to do with them. My last four years have been spent reading the works of a lot of dead white guys and a few obligatory minority women.

I’ve spent lots of money on printer ink so my professors can see that I’ve spent time thinking about the issues raised in a particular text. I’ve written for The Signal, interned at a newspaper and taken exactly one journalism class. You know what that’s all taught me? Words speak louder than actions.

The anonymous artist who placed the nativity scene in front of the student center last week could have paraded around campus with placards, denouncing President Bush and his policies and annoying all of us. She could have protested like Stephen White and condemned Bush’s actions on all sorts of issues, like war in Iraq and good ol’ abortion laws.

But instead she displayed what is basically a 3D political cartoon. Yes, it was offensive to some people and yes, she could have just said, “Bush does x, y and z because of his religious beliefs,” but would you have listened?

People don’t pay attention to things unless it’s right in front of them and attacking something they believe in. I’m sure most students on this campus know what Bush’s stance on reproductive rights are, but how about tax issues?

I have a uterus, but I don’t make enough money to pay anything substantial, so I don’t need to worry about taxes. Last week’s Signal reported the artist’s intention as wanting to “make people aware, create discussion and get people thinking about what’s going on in our government.” Well, now we’re aware and discussing it.

Those who had problems with the display could have ignored it. They could have talked to the artist and seen that the focus was on the president’s use of religion to justify the direction government has gone, not Christianity itself. The artist, for all we know, may be a spiritual person who sees religion as a personal matter and doesn’t believe it has a place in government. She expressed her opinion in a non-violent, relatively non-invasive way. If you didn’t like it, you could have just keep on walking.

One of the students who vandalized the display is quoted as saying “it’s a free country” before removing the mask from the statue. If my memory of high school history serves me correctly, the pilgrims came to America because they didn’t like the religion of the government and its effect on their lives.

We have a right to mock anything we want, as publicly as we want. We have the right to practice whatever religion we choose or none at all, to vote for our leaders and to say they are wrong when they screw up. People have crossed oceans and died in the process to be able to live with the freedom we take for granted.

It is indeed a free country. There’s a catch, though. We can’t touch each other and we can’t intentionally damage each other’s property. The artist of the nativity scene was free to display her work and we are free to criticize it.

The students who took the mask off the statue were free to express their opinion of it as well. They were free to tell the artist they didn’t like the display and how it made them feel. They were free to write their opinions to the newspaper or the artist herself. They were free to create their own artwork, based on their views, and to plunk it down in front of the student center for every one else to see and criticize. They were not free, however, to dismantle something that obviously belonged to someone else.

We’re students, not infants. We sit through two semesters of rhetoric to learn how to express our opinions intelligently, and yet we still resort to physically attacking what others have to say. I’m sure plenty of people reading this disagree with me and they think the students who took the mask off the statue acted appropriately.

If you want to argue your point, use what you’ve learned at the College and write it down. This time, give your words chance to speak.