The Right to Choose What I See Walking To and From Class

I’m not going to turn this post into me spouting out my political and ideological ideas. That’s not what this post is going to be about.

Instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about the First Amendment, college campuses, graphic photos and the old adage “location, location, location.” I’m going to really try to keep this an exploration and expression of opinion rather than a hotheaded rant, and I encourage people to comment based on the First Amendment issue at hand. No pro-life/pro-choice smearing, please.

To begin, here’s a little background for my non-Mizzou readers. This is Lowry Mall:

Lowry Mall at its most peaceful, with the cathedral-like Memorial Union standing tall behind it.

Lowry Mall acts as the main route to several things. The main doors of Ellis Library are off of Lowry, as are the main doors to the Rhynsburger Theater and Student Resource Center. Memorial Union is at one end, and Jesse Hall and the Francis Quad are across the street on the other. It’s a much-used area where many pedestrian traffic jams occur at the high points of the school day.

And this is what Lowry Mall has looked like the last two days:

This picture doesn't give a great sense of how clear these pictures were from where I was standing.

An anti-abortion group set up an exhibit of graphic photos, calling them images of “genocide” and placing signs at both ends, warning students what lay ahead (the sign was down by the time I shot this picture, but the exhibit remained).

Now is where I want to launch into the inaccuracy in calling abortion “genocide.” Instead, I’ll smack myself on the wrist and move on to what I said I’d talk about.

The anti-abortion group that set up the pictures has the constitutional right to do so. I repeat in boldface: the group has the constitutional right to set up those pictures. As a journalist, I accept its right to exercise free speech. There’s a reason the founding fathers made freedom of speech the First Amendment and joined it with the right to petition, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and (my favorite) freedom of the press. Freedom of Speech is the most significant right granted to us by our government, and it’s something that every group should not only embrace, but also exercise.

That being said, I take serious issue with how the group encroached upon my own right to choose whether I wanted to be exposed to their protest. That leads to my main argument:

Although the group exercises its right to free speech, it deprives passers-by the right to not be exposed to the demonstration.

Freedom of Speech not only guarantees the right to say whatever you want, but also the right to choose whether to listen. Say what you want on TV because we can change the channel. Write what you want in books because people can choose not to read them. In a case like this, the anti-abortion demonstration doesn’t give students the option of avoiding the graphic photographs of aborted babies because it is located in such a high-traffic area. Lowry Mall is the route many students take through campus, and regardless of warning signs, students have to walk past these pictures. Even from Ninth Street, where I took the picture, I could read what the signs said and clearly see the photos, and it’s almost impossible to go through a day at MU without walking past Lowry on either Hitt or Ninth streets. The Student Resource Center (the white building on the left in the first picture) has full windows looking out at the exhibit, so anyone who works there or goes there for help is automatically a captive audience to the gory photos showcased on the exterior of the exhibit.

When Jeff Koons or John Currin display some of their more risque art (some would call it glorified pornography), the art museum puts up a sign warning patrons of mature images ahead. The anti-abortion-rights group did put up signs, but as I’ve already discussed, they might as well have put out a “Caution, Wet Floor” tent for all the good it did. The photos were still in clear view, even if you wanted to avoid them.

A musing came to me when walking to dinner with Shaina. What if a pro-abortion-rights group set up pictures of female genitalia and reproductive organs? Would they be allowed to keep them up if the set up signs saying, “Caution: Graphic Biological Photography Ahead?” Or would the group be forced to take them down because of their “obscene content?” Just like I don’t want to see photos of aborted babies, others don’t really fancy looking a colorful picture of a female parts when walking to Starbucks. Labias and lattes don’t jive well for most people.

A solution to this would have been…

I’ve never been one to introduce an argument without offering a solution. In this case, I have two.

The first would be to make the outside walls of the exhibit photo-free. The group could still put up all its quotes, slogans, contact information, etc. for all to see, but the images would be contained on the inside so only those interested would be exposed to them.

The second option would be to move the exhibit. There’s another part of campus, Speaker’s Circle, where Christian evangelists preach, atheists have an info table, pro-marijuana rights groups campaign, the student association doles out a crazy amount of fliers and Greek-life students harass you two times a year to give blood. It’s called Speaker’s Circle because it’s where you have the legal right to have a demonstration without a permit. It’s spitting distance from Lowry and just as busy an intersection on campus, but with alternative routes that students can take to get around it easily. Maybe the anti-abortion group didn’t set its exhibition up there because the space is too small. Or maybe they though coupling it with Brother Jed’s forum would be overkill.

Ooh, bad Kate. That’s another smack on the wrist for you.

I don’t want to deny the rights of the anti-abortion group to protest in a public forum; that’s the right all Americans have, regardless of opinion. I just don’t appreciate the forcefulness of it. We may be a college campus, but that doesn’t mean we can be treated as a captive audience.

So protest on, pro-life group. Just give me the right to choose if I want to look or not.

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2 Comments

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  1. I have classes in both Ellis and the Fine Arts building. I try to just keep my head down as I walk past, because I don’t want to be assaulted by the images. I know abortion and genocide (which are different) are gruesome. I do not want to be reminded of that when I’m running late to class. People with weak dispositions (like me) should not have to be assaulted by gory images without some warning first.

    Also, the warning signs that say “WARNING: IMAGES OF GENOCIDE AHEAD” make most people think they are talking about some African country where civil war has broken out. It’s misleading, which is not okay in my book.

    Hopefully that was middle of the road enough and not too confrontational.

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