“You can’t live a normal life, girl. Living a normal life is evil while America does this to babies.”

I was running down the sidewalk on Marshall Drive when an anti-abortion protester leaned close to me and yelled these words. I ran on past signs depicting grotesque, mutilated fetuses. I ran past signs condemning mothers who chose abortions. A man on the street corner shouted through a megaphone that women who receive abortions are murderers.

This is not an opinion on abortion. Regardless of whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, the actions of these protesters were aggressive and uncalled for.

This is not a free speech issue. The First Amendment doesn’t change right and wrong.

The protest was a targeted attack on high school students and passerbys. The protesters chose Marshall.

The protesters released a video of the event in which they discuss putting their signs in front of cars and yelling at people through their windows while they are trapped at the stop light. They gleefully compare notes on how they are forcing people to look at their signs by blocking the sidewalk.

The protesters revelled in the power imbalance rush hour traffic created. They tried to manipulate the situation to force their views on people who were unable to look or get away.

I find the targeting of my classmates, my teachers and myself insulting. Free speech aside, I have the right to feel offended.

I have the right to feel offended by the provocative images displayed that portrayed a medical, sometimes life saving procedure, as a crime scene. I have the right to feel offended by the signs and chants that condemn women who might be classmates, teachers or a passerby on the street.

I have the right to feel offended, and even threatened, by the personal approach the protesters took. I have the right to feel harrassed by a man yelling in my face as I practiced my sport.

These “protesters,” were not protesters at all. They were attackers and assailants. They were not protesting legislation or outlining their opinion. They were attacking anyone who did not clearly share their belief that abortion was wrong.

I can be, and am, upset by people who take up sidewalks and poison the air with their vicious attacks and harassment of people who have no connection to their cause.

 

 

Feeling offended is not the same as being harassed. After the recent abortion protests on May 16th, students reported harassment to administration. However, school officials confirmed no harassment occurred and the protesters followed the law. The demonstrations were a peaceful protest, but it is clear many students did not see it that way.

A protest is considered peaceful when it is without violence. Once society begins conflating nonviolent words with violent actions, they have begun vilifying speech with which they disagree. One can argue raising up signs such as, “abortion is a savage act of violence” is not tasteful, but the signs were not threatening. If the demonstrators were attacking students, they would have been shut down. The protesters passed out cards, chanted and held signs. Students exiting the school were jarred. The demonstrators sent a clear message: abortion is wrong.

The pictures on signs shocked students and sparked discussion in school about abortion. That discussion bordered on gossip, and it could have been much more productive. The Marshall community often proclaims itself to be a haven of intellectual diversity and open-mindedness. But when challenged, students failed to live up to their own ideals. The predominantly left-leaning student body chose to ignore an opportunity to learn from a counter-perspective. Holding a pro-life opinion is unpopular at Marshall, but that belief should not incentivise students to hate those who hold it. Students must remember freedom of speech also applies to those they dislike as well as to those with which they disagree. How can Marshall call itself a place of debate, tolerance and education, if its students cannot bear to hear an unpopular opinion?

The protesters’ tactics appeared offensive, but so did students’ when they walked out of their classrooms and left school on April 20. When you protest, offense is implicit. Students walked out of their classrooms because they knew it offended their teachers, their parents and government officials. The abortion demonstrators presumably knew their signs would not be welcomed, but they protested anyway. They must have felt their cause was great enough to risk an adverse reaction. Non-offensive speech doesn’t need protection under the law. It is only the offensive speech that needs protection. The First Amendment gives abortion protesters their right to be heard, just as it gives students their right to be heard.

Students, don’t be upset when you see people with whom you disagree exercising their right to free speech. Instead, take it as an opportunity to learn and to grow.