Letter to the Editor: Where to draw the line with the First Amendment

BY BENNETT STEIN
Molly Niedbala & Jen Bizzotto
Published October 5, 2011

Monday’s article in The Michigan Daily (Pro-Life group displays controversial images on Diag, 10/4/2011) showed that many students reacted to the enormous and graphic images of aborted fetuses with outrage and disgust, questioning why the University even allowed such a display by the Center for Bio-ethical Reform and Students for Life. The First Amendment empowers and encourages a critical and constructive response to the shocking protests on our campus.

The First Amendment necessarily and intentionally protects even the most abhorrent speech in order to protect the free expression of all individuals in our society. If government laws or University rules are used to silence the speech of one group, they can be used — and have been used throughout our nation’s history — to silence any speech found objectionable.

Still, as important as it is to maintain our commitment to free speech, it is imperative to realize that such blatant attacks on women’s rights are aimed primarily to instill fear and guilt in those confronted with reproductive decisions. We must stand by our commitment to free speech while continuing our dedication to the protection and advancement of reproductive freedom.

It is undeniable that this week's incendiary pro-life demonstration facilitated a vibrant community discourse; our campus is freshly abuzz with discussion of both free speech and abortion rights. In order for our University to remain a dynamic community that promotes a free exchange of ideas, the Diag and its other public spaces must remain open forums. If the Diag is to be a place for any dialogue, it must be place for all dialogue, no matter how unpopular or disturbing. Our response to the hateful speech ever-frequent on our campus must be a re-dedication to these constitutional rights that are threatened.

Bennett Stein, Molly Niedbala and Jen Bizzotto
Members of the undergraduate chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the University of Michigan