Several students surrounded three pro-life activists at the University of Oregon on Tuesday, March 10, and attempted to destroy a poster of one of the protestors that they felt was too obscene to be shown in public.
Allison Rutledge was the first to damage the poster and claims the activists should not have the right to display the image.
Rutledge claims she felt “emotionally threatened” and led a chant in order to get the activists to leave the property.
WARNING: Graphic image below
“All I’d like to say about why I decided to actually take the sign from him is I realized it was his property, but it was a piece of paper. I considered the sign obscene and offensive and intending to anger and start a scene,” Rutledge said. “I didn’t want to look at that obscenity.”
Rutledge claims she and the other pro-choice students had no problem with the opinion, but “it was the sign.”
“There’s a limit to what people should be forced to look at,” she said. “We didn’t like it and we actually made him put his sign away. You can’t just show whatever you want.”
In 1984, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that even if the material is obscene, any censorship is unconstitutional.
After Rutledge began protesting, other protesters began to demand the dismissal of the activists.
“This is our campus and we don’t want it — we don’t want you and your ugliness,” an unidentified woman said in the video taken by observers. “This is so violent. This is obscene,” the woman told the activist. “This is not part of your First Amendment rights. This is unbelievable.”
Although Rutledge and other protesters didn’t violate the First Amendment. Frank Lomonte, Student Press Law Center Executive Director of University of Oregon, said liability comes into play when personal property is involved.
“It’s never a good idea to use violence to silence a person whose speech you find upsetting,” he said.
Campus police officer, John Loos, responded to the scene and incorrectly cited university policy by saying the activist had to stop the “Hitler stuff,” or be asked to leave the property.
“I don’t see where you’re showing how I’m violating the law,” the activist said to Loos. “There would be no need to protect freedom of speech if everybody agreed.”
Loos claimed that even though U of O is a public school, the property belonged to a privately owned institution.
“If it’s considered to be demeaning or anything like that, it’s not allowed,” Loos said.
Loos graduated from the police academy in February 2014.
Claiming the activist was the instigator, Loos went on to say the activist was violating student government rules.
Loos said that his primary concern was to help the conflicting parties avoid physical confrontation.
“I’m not picking sides here,” Loos said. “What I’m trying to do is work a compromise so that these two groups could be doing this all day without having a fight.”
Responding Sergeant, Frank Sorrentino, eventually arrive on the scene and corrected Loos. The activists could stay as long as there was no physical violence.
UO Police Chief Carolyn McDermed published a statement in The Daily Emerald:
“As free speech is a cornerstone of a public university, we expect our officers to understand the relevant laws and police, and do their professional best to protect the speech rights of everyone on campus, while ensuring safe access to our facilities and public rights of way. All UOPD officers will be reminded of the relevant laws and policies, and their role in protecting the safe practice of free speech on our campus.”
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion,” the activist said.