Today, the Cincinnati Enquirer published an editorial concerning an incident at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) where a professor invited a class “to express their freedom-of-speech rights” to destroy a “Cemetery of Innocents,” an anti-abortion display consisting of 400 crosses and a sign explaining its purpose. The editorial is right on point in saying:
Northern Kentucky University professor Sally Jacobsen overstepped her own rights and arrogantly stomped on the First Amendment rights of others when she invited students in her class to demolish an approved anti-abortion display on campus.
As a teacher she has much to learn.
Her own "outrage" at a display she found offensive pales beside the outrage students, college staff and the rest of us should feel at her behavior. What she called a "silly display" is symbolic speech clearly protected by the U.S. Constitution, as precious as any other right Jacobsen might say she was advocating for.
She said she was offended by the display. So what? Does she think she has the right to obliterate someone else’s expression just because it offends her? Would she deface a painting she didn’t care for? Smash a statue she didn’t like? Burn books in the library if she disagreed with them?
The display of 400 crosses represented a cemetery of aborted fetuses. Jacobsen said it was dismantled by nine of her graduate students, and she acknowledged inviting them to destroy it. She would neither confirm nor deny that she took part in the activity.
Destroying such a display is a foolhardy and incendiary act for anyone, but even more so for a tenured professor at a university. Intellectual freedom of thought and expression is not only the foundation of our democratic society, but a cornerstone of institutions of higher learning as well.
It is unthinkable that, rather than using a provocative and controversial display as a tool for debate and discussion, Jacobsen’s instinct was to destroy the "provocation" and stifle free expression.
But even beyond unprofessional behavior, demolishing the display appears to be a criminal act. Anyone convicted of taking part in it or abetting it should be prosecuted.
This was not a protest in support of enlightened thinking. This was a threat to it.
Fortunately, NKU does not need a lesson in the First Amendment and has made statements condemning Jacobsen’s actions. But, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Washington State University took three months to denounce a demonstration where the administration organized and paid for a group of hecklers to shout down student Chris Lee’s satirical play called Passion of the Musical. Furthermore, it took almost six months of constant public pressure for the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire to rescind an unconstitutional policy banning RAs from holding Bible studies in their dorm rooms.
The president of NKU should be commended for his strong support of freedom of speech and the First Amendment.
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire
Washington State University
Northern Kentucky University