Table of Contents

Are pictures of abortion ‘hate speech?’

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression


Last week, Phi Beta Cons noted a story in the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald describing yet another instance of vandalism of a pro-life display. According to the Herald, Western Washington University student David Janus Zhang was so enraged by a “display showing pictures of aborted fetuses next to images of genocide” that he jumped over a fence and tried to destroy it. Zhang inflicted $2,700 worth of damage in the course of what a university police officer called “a rampage.” He was arrested and jailed; he now faces charges of malicious mischief and disorderly conduct charges.

Now, in response to the anti-abortion display, some students at Western Washington University are campaigning to ban so-called “hate speech” on campus. The “hate speech” in question appears to have consisted of the aborted fetus display itself. As the lead organizer of the campaign for a hate speech ban told The Western Front student newspaper:

Pierson said Western’s administration doesn’t protect students from groups that bring hate speech to campus. This spurred her to start the petition, she said.

“I felt that I was being targeted by hate speech via the display and knew other people who felt the same way, so I began the petition with the help of some friends as a way for students’ and faculty’s concerns to be recognized,” Pierson said.

Thankfully, the administration of Western Washington University doesn’t appear to want any part of this movement to censor controversial speech. As one administrator said:

“All I can do is explain what constitutes free speech,” Schuster said. “I’m not a lawyer, but I know based on Supreme Court decisions that it’s appropriate to have these dialogues on campus and we can’t restrict peoples’s ability to have them. We can set a time, place and manner although the entire campus is a free speech area.”

This is good news. Although the article’s description of speech policies on Western Washington’s campus raises some red flags, administrators seem to be resisting the urge to add new, restrictive regulations despite the pressure to enact a code that would almost surely be unconstitutional. After all, as FIRE often points out, there is no exception to the First Amendment that would make it permissible to ban so-called “hate speech.”

This affair appears to be part of an emerging nationwide trend of pro-life displays being vandalized on college campuses. Last month, Greg blogged on a situation at Northern Kentucky University where a pro-life exhibit of 400 crosses in the ground was destroyed in an effort led by an NKU professor. And at Princeton University, a similar display was destroyed just a week later. According to The Daily Princetonian, a club called Princeton Pro-Life had put up “347 flags…[that] were meant to represent the lives of students who might have become members of the University’s Class of 2010 had abortion not been legalized.” That happened on April 17. But then, in the wee hours of the morning of April 20, vandals pulled the flags out of the ground, trampled and altered the club’s signage, and peppered the area with coat hangers. Pro-choice banners in the area were also destroyed; it is not known if the same vandals were responsible for both incidents.

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.