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Why the University of Alabama Was Right Not to 'Protect' Students From Westboro Baptist Church Demonstrations

Yesterday, University of Alabama junior Noah Cannon wrote to UA’s student newspaper, The Crimson White, to ask why the university had not spoken out on behalf of LGBTQ students against the Westboro Baptist Church’s (WBC’s) recent demonstration on campus. Student groups and local churches swiftly organized a counter-protest and successfully countered the WBC’s picket line. Still, Mr. Cannon laments the non-response from UA: I waited to hear what would be done to protect LGBTQ+ students from WBC’s homophobic message.I heard nothing. No emails were sent. No statements were released. No help was offered. It is important to remember that while the WBC’s ideas are offensive to many, the First Amendment protects its members’ expression just as it protects ours. And just as the school—which, in the case of the University of Alabama, is a state actor—may not step in and silence one viewpoint in a debate on abortion or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it may not step in to silence other viewpoints on campus either, however abhorrent those viewpoints might be to some or even many. Advocates of censorship, however well-intentioned, might remember that Mr. Cannon’s feelings about homosexuality once constituted the “abhorrent” minority viewpoint. Those who believe that the school should have acted to “protect” students from WBC’s message today should ask themselves if they believe that the school should have been able to silence discussion on homosexuality decades ago in order to “protect” students. In a nation of “Equal Justice Under Law,” the rights of your most bitter political foes are your rights, too. Accordingly, the university was correct not to interfere with the WBC’s demonstration.  Mr. Cannon asks: “How much longer will LGBTQ+ people at The University of Alabama have to wait for our administration to speak up on our behalf?” But LGBTQ+ students and their allies at and around UA have demonstrated that they are perfectly capable of speaking on their own behalf, and UA has allowed them to do so. The resulting protest and counter-protest at UA illustrates exactly the kind of unfettered debate meant to take place on college campuses, and sends a much more powerful message than any act of censorship would have.

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