Silencing opposition eliminates free speech

By Jessica Kopew 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story inaccurately mentioned that a Students for Life member asked the students taking down the flags if it would be acceptable to tear down pride flags in front of PRISM. In reality, one of the students who was taking down the flags asked if they should bring a pride flag to an unrelated protest, and Students for Life did not comment on anything having to do with the pride flag or the unrelated protest.

The Graveyard of Innocents — a display by TCNJ Students for Life, a pro-life student organization — has been facing a lot of controversy, both through word of mouth at the College and on social media. The club planted pink and blue flags across Green Lawn, each flag representing 10 fetuses that have been aborted in New Jersey in the past month.

Students vandalize the Students for Life club’s anti-abortion display. (Instagram)

On April 12, seven students decided to dismantle this display because they disagreed with the club’s pro-life stance. TCNJ Students for Life aims to popularize the pro-life movement on campus and offer resources to women who want to take their pregnancy to term.

A video of the vandalism has been circulating online, featuring students arguing over the right to tear down the display without the permission of the school or club. Those who decided to tear down the display claimed they were trying to protect women who have been through abortions from continued trauma, according to their statements in the video of the incident.

Victoria Kiernan, a junior nursing major and the president of Students for Life said that she is “disheartened to see our display, The Graveyard of Innocents, vandalized as this is an infringement of our First Amendment rights.”

She added that the club “went through the proper campus protocols by receiving approval for both our display and signage beforehand.”

In the video, you can clearly hear the divide between the pro-choice and pro-life sides — those who are against the display say that instead of the flags representing babies, like the club said on the sign, it just represents “some cells that got flushed out,” and that this display could be potentially traumatizing for women who have gone through this experience. The individual recording the video then retorts these comments by asking that if they were just a few cells, why should this display be traumatizing. The debate continues between the two parties throughout the video.

I believe, regardless of whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, that we should all support every person’s First Amendment rights. Even if you disagree with the statement behind this display, we all have an equal opportunity to display our opinions, and it is wrong to try and silence those with whom we disagree.

The second that we no longer feel safe disagreeing with people is the second that our country becomes a tyranny. If we cannot feel safe saying what we believe to be true, then we no longer live in a society with freedom of speech. Destruction and suppression of ideas is never the answer, especially in response to a peaceful display.

Later the same week, another display featured flags on Green Lawn representing “people here who believe you have the right to choose, to love and to protest.” I believe this would have been more effective had it been set up next to the Students for Life display. A counter-display following an act of vandalism is in poor taste. If the pro-choice and pro-life students had put their displays side-by-side, it would have started a conversation rather than a fight, which is always more peaceful and productive.

 

The destruction of The Graveyard of Innocents was wrong because it was an act of violence, instead of a start to an open conversation. This is not an issue of pro-life versus pro-choice — it was an issue of First Amendment rights.

Students share opinions around campus

“Are students accepting of political differences?”

Feyisola Adebiyi, a freshman accounting major. (Emmy Liederman / Opinions Editor)

“When people surround themselves with those who only agree with their views, they become tolerant.”

Allie Shifton, a freshman history and secondary education dual major. (Emmy Liederman / Opinions Editor)

“I think the majority of people respect differences in opinions.”