Northern Kentucky University is a beautiful, busy campus where free speech and new ideas are expressed openly. As a sophomore walking about this campus, these displays are intriguing to me. I see so much culture and passion. Although I enjoy even the controversial subjects such as morality and religion being voiced on campus, many students do not. A few examples include the abortion posters and the handing out of Bibles. Some students were so unhappy with the pro-life protesters that they destroyed their displays. If students get so upset about these types of arguments, should they be allowed to be on a college campus? I think so. College is not just a place to get a degree. College offers an experience unlike any other. This kind of experience educates us, shapes who we will become, and affects the entire student population. Free speech on religion and morality are a huge part of this experience.
Obviously, college is about education. Students go to college and expect to learn. However, the education we receive should not be limited to the classroom. We are preparing for the real world. Some may believe that college is the real world. Well, it’s not. Truth is there is a whole world of new ideas and viewpoints that are different from ours. Our goal should be to learn as much as possible. We cannot just block out the views of the religious or opinions about moral. No, we need to be aware of what they believe if we want to have any influence in the real world. This just makes sense. How can one have a strong, effective opinion on a subject if they know nothing about it? See, the key to any debate is to know the opposing side(s). If there are speakers expressing their religion on campus or anywhere for that matter, understand why and get to know their doctrine. If there are non-religious speakers, know their philosophy. When it comes to moral, learn why it is important to them. Many times, students, especially in college, seem to think they know everything. I will admit I can oftentimes be quite close-minded in this way. Despite this, I urge that college students be more open to speaking with those who have strong opinions regarding religion and moral. Know their story. Consider the “Canary Effect”: miners used to bring canaries with them while doing their work. They would set a canary free and if it did not return, the miners would know that there were harmful gases in the atmosphere that killed it. These gases would soon reach the miners if they did not abandon the situation. We can compare this to people around the world: what is important to them may one day be important to you. So, be curious! As college students, we all should be.
One great example of a movement educating students on moral is the Pro-Life group. In November, the Pro-Life movement placed posters in front of the Student Union. These posters featured graphic images of human fetuses that were dismembered during abortion. Many students took great offense to this; so much that anonymous student(s) stole part of their display in the night. While the Pro-Life group probably did not expect vandalism, their goal was to catch attention. They definitely did! I understand the offense taken by those who may have experienced abortion or miscarriage, but whether that is uncomfortable or not this pro-life movement has a cause to teach. This movement’s biggest concern was to educate by utilizing what they consider unfiltered evidence of what they believe to be a human life. As gruesome as these posters appeared, students need to be open-minded and mature about the presentation. Sure, it is kind of gross, but images we see in textbooks from war and even biology are not that appealing either. Abortion is an important decision to be aware of, especially in college.
Whatever the debate, we are called to be mature adults and learn instead of complaining or running away. If there is a movement on campus, I encourage anyone who does not approve of it to educate others on their opinion as well! Those who did not agree with the Pro-Life group stood nearby the display and held signs expressing their own view. I think that this is a great thing! If we disagree, we should also voice our opinion in appropriate ways after learning about others! We need to form opinions in college! This is another fantastic experience that can be brought to campus through speaking out in regards to religion and morality. When we experience these controversies, our opinions can be formed and shaped by causing us to think deeply about what we value. We need to have a strong sense of self in any situation life throws at us. This shaping has a huge role in who we will become.
Sometimes, I come across random older guys on campus passing out Bibles, church pamphlets, or preaching. While I am sure these guys have some great influence to bring, it is not okay for outsiders to come onto campus and preach religion and morality if they are not first wanted there by the students. Permission should be granted first by student government. Safety should be ensured as well. I am not saying I want to block out outside sources. Rather, students should want to hear about whichever cause is being brought up.
Also, free speech regarding religion and morality on campus should not include negative name-calling or personal insults such as “sinner” or more specifically regarding abortion; “murderer.” For one, that is not a good way to get people to listen to their cause anyway. I do not go to school to be called names or to have others stereotype me. All students should be respected when it comes to free speech.
Of course, we should all be respected when it comes to voicing our own opinions. We have the right to be! One reason why I am so passionate about this is because it is so easy for free speech to be quietly put away if we are not paying attention. This kind of behavior is a form of censorship to keep information away from us to keep us under control. This can end up being dehumanizing and leave us clueless of the reality of a situation. This happens everywhere. Maybe it does not seem like such a big deal because it is mainly just the talk of religion and morality on college campuses that I speak of. What harm can keeping these speeches off campus do? A lot actually.
As college students, we play a huge role in shaping the fate of our future and the future of generations to come. Rights can be taken away quietly and simply, a bit at a time. This can start on college campuses. What not better place to begin? Are college students not some of the most loud and impactful voices? In fact, this has already occurred on a few campuses. In 2009, Yale University Press decided to remove images of Muhammad from scholarly books in order to “prevent violence”. How is this okay? We all should have the right to express our religion and beliefs about moral. To keep those images out of books is a tactic of control. We need to know all the facts about what people believe, regardless of the uproar this could bring. This is not the only instance of censorship on college campuses: cartoons were removed from the book “Cartoons that Shocked the World,” countless speeches were cancelled such as one by Ward Churchill at Hamilton College, and even art exhibitions like the video exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute were closed. Thankfully, these instances sparked a lot of attention from academic and free speech groups. They informed campuses in a joint statement that “…the suppression of ideas is a form of repression used by authoritative regimes around the world to control and dehumanize their citizens and squelch opposition…the failure to stand up for free expression emboldens those who would attack and undermine it.” I agree wholeheartedly with these statements. It can start with acts such as these and the next thing is we end up with a Holocaust because we have been controlled and dehumanized. Maybe that is a bit extreme, but it is truth. We should be able to express profoundly what we believe to be true on college campuses everywhere.
There is so much to be learned from other beliefs. We can learn about ourselves and take these ideas to change the world. We cannot simply ban the speech of religion and moral on campuses. We need to listen to their words and think about them. Disagreements are not something to fear, but rather to embrace as a chance to share ideas and shape the opinions and mindsets of people not only on campus, but everywhere.