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SAD! Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression in the Trump Era

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It seems that every few weeks a new incident occurs on a college campus in the United States, when students and others are silenced for using their First Amendment rights. At the start of February, the University of California, Berkeley, had to cancel a speech by the now disgraced Milo Yiannopoulos due to a riot started by liberal students, which quickly got out of hand when a fire started on campus.

At Middlebury College, liberal students protested and shut down a speech by a conservative speaker. These incidents led conservative talking heads like Tomi Lauren, Glenn Beck, and the cast of Fox and Friends to start calling college campuses safe havens for “special liberal snowflakes.”  

Over the weekend, Moravian College experienced its own incident when political artwork was destroyed. The artwork in question depicted the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, as “the epitome of evil” as the artist put it. This time it wasn’t a “special liberal snowflake” who couldn’t handle an alternative viewpoint.

The artwork entitled “SAD!” (pictured here, at the bottom of a trash barrel) was painted by senior Jessica Donavan. She was motivated to create the artwork because of her belief that Trump  “is a danger to my life and to my rights.”  Donovan quickly came under fire for her artwork shortly after it was hung up in the HUB last week.  

The school received numerous complaints from parents and students that denounced the display of the artwork. After a few days of being displayed in the HUB the artwork was stolen and later on found in a garbage can by Campus Safety, ripped in half.

The situation has left me perplexed and led me to think for quite some time, not only about the protests at UC Berkeley and Middlebury but also about the actions here at Moravian.

For starters: to anyone who blamed the College for allowing the artwork to be hung up, you do know the College administration has no say in what’s hung up in the HUB, right?  In fact the artwork in question is a student’s and therefore deserves a spot on campus to be displayed.  

Secondly, to the cowards who stole artwork of a fellow student, do you have any decency?  I can’t think of anyone who has ever felt the need to destroy artwork because it doesn’t fit their political view. Oh, wait, yes I can. Their names are as follows: Kim Jong Un, Joseph Stalin, and Joseph Goebbels, not exactly the group you want to fit in with. I know you’re not out here repressing anyone like the previously mentioned have, but you are, in fact, repressing a fellow student’s rights. Furthermore, due to the subject matter of the artwork you’re sending a clear signal to others that their rights are also alienable and do not matter in your eyes.

The violation of the First Amendment is the greatest threat that democracy can face. It doesn’t matter if someone’s views don’t reflect your own; you simply cannot violate someone’s right to the freedom of speech. It doesn’t matter if someone claims that gays shouldn’t have rights. It doesn’t matter if they’re defending pedophiles. It just doesn’t matter because EVERYONE is entitled to their freedom of speech in the United States. No matter how vile you think someone’s words and thoughts are, as long as they don’t commit a hate crime they can say whatever they want.

That’s what makes America special: we CAN criticize our leaders, our press, and our neighbors, but as soon as you attack them by destroying their property and their right to speak out you become the lowest form of human. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative; you have a right to protest, to speak up, but you do NOT have the right to silence others.  

This applies to both the liberals who riot and shut down speakers and conservatives who destroy artwork all because they don’t agree with it. GROW UP!  You’re acting like children in Kindergarten who have to destroy some other kid’s Lego house because they used a different color brick than you did.  I’m not asking you to agree and sing Kumbaya around a fire; I’m asking you to have some respect and not infringe upon other individuals’ civil liberties.  

It doesn’t matter how you feel about Donald Trump. What does matter is that you respect your fellow students and have a dialogue about your discrepancies. The nation as a whole has become far too polarized, where if we don’t agree with one thing someone says, we can’t be bothered to listen to them at all. The quickest way to become a complete idiot is to shelter yourself from any opposing view. If both sides continue to ignore the ideas of the other, then the country and basic democracy will fall to the wayside.   

In short, we have to pull ourselves together, hear each other out, and understand that while we may disagree with someone their opinion is still valid and important. If someone else’s worldview threatens yours, then maybe your worldview isn’t so strong. If you have to resort to crime to get your “point” across, maybe your “point” isn’t worth anything at all. If you have to silence others and take away their civil liberties to protect your thoughts and opinions, then maybe they aren’t worth having in the first place.  
I’m sure many of you will disagree with my opinion, but you know what? That’s the great thing about the United States. You can write me a comment or email me. Just don’t use an ad hominem attack against me. It only proves how weak and unstable your argument is.

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8 Comments

8 Responses to “SAD! Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression in the Trump Era”

  1. Margaret Snyder on March 27th, 2017 5:10 pm

    Is this really a violation of the right to free speech? The right to free speech is the right to be free of government control of your speech. The state cannot fine or imprison you because of what you say. If Moravian College, a private entity, had decided not to display the artwork on whatever grounds, that seems like it would have been within the College’s right.

    What assuredly happened here is a crime against private property. That artwork belonged to the student who created it and no one had a right to deface or destroy it. Period.

    What happened at Middlebury College and Berkeley seem also to have involved crimes against private property, and also against persons, who were physically attacked, and against the public order. No one was ever threatened by the state with fine or imprisonment for the content of their speech.

    [Reply]

    Brandon Faust Reply:

    I see your point, and to answer your question yes it is a violation of free speech. The First Amendment protects you not only from the state, but also from other citizens as well. Due to Moravian being a Private college the ruling from cases like Tinker v Des Moines limiting free speech under public schools funded/controlled by the state, wouldn’t apply. Moravian being a private entity could find itself in trouble in court if it attempted to remove the artwork, it would be open to interpretation. Furthermore there ARE areas of speech where the government can fine or imprison someone, Schenck v United States, Abrams v United States, Debs v United States, along with others. Some would say these aren’t limiting free speech, as they could potentially harm the country, and they don’t apply very often, but I would argue that free speech is something that’s either 100% or not, sorta like free trade, either you have no taxes or tariffs or you don’t really have free trade. You made the case that this was a crime against private property but might not be a violation of free speech. We have to look at the property that was damaged in this case. The property was artwork which therefore changes the case entirely. Artwork is protected as a part of speech, this can even be seen in the infamous “Bong hits 4 jesus” case. In the case students hung up a banner saying “bong hits 4 jesus” in school. The banner was considered artwork which changed the course of the case to where the students almost won, only loses due to the encouragement of using drugs. We can compare that to the recent incident at Easton with the “I Heart Boobies” bracelets, which would have had a very different outcome if the message was artwork rather than an accessory. To sum up, because the First Amendment applies to cases of citizen v citizen, yes what happened at UC Berkeley and Middlebury are violations of free speech. This also applies to the incident at Moravian as artwork was involved.

    [Reply]

  2. don st. john on March 27th, 2017 6:35 pm

    Free speech whether verbal or visual must be a cornerstone of a college like Moravian. This whole episode is
    embarrassing and disgusting. The Community must come together and discuss this.

    [Reply]

  3. Peter Richmomd on March 27th, 2017 7:26 pm

    Free speech should be a right unencumbered by context, no? More locally: The act of censorship on a campus that is known for community, civic dialogue and tolerance seems like an intended rip in that fabric. Let’s do everything we can to reject those who would try to change that.

    [Reply]

    Peter Richmond Reply:

    Free speech should be a right unencumbered by context, no? More locally: The act of censorship on a campus that is known for community, civic dialogue and tolerance seems like an intended rip in that fabric. Let’s do everything we can to reject those who would try to change that.

    [Reply]

  4. Tom on March 27th, 2017 11:51 pm

    I need to clarify that the protests at UC Berkely were not liberal students; it was a coalition of liberal, antifascist, and other concerned citizens. Milo is a neo-fascist provocateur who brings violence in his wake – at a previous speech of his, an anti-racist activist had been shot by a white supremacist and nearly died. Additionally, and I can tell you this personally, the coalition at UCB did everything in its power to protest the speech before violence erupted (community wide campaigns of signatures, letters and talks with the administration, etc). None of it worked until the protests themselves.

    Riots (which affect property, only) are not even remotely equivalent to the violence of Neo-Fascists against peoples’ lives – now is the time to finally acknowledge that danger instead of cowering behind the discourse of respectability, because it won’t go away without a fight. These amateur art thieves reflect that.

    [Reply]

  5. Brian W. Smith on April 19th, 2017 10:05 pm

    First let me start by asking this question what if it were 2 years ago and a Moravian Art student drew and displayed this picture of then President Obama. A few possibilities are she would have been expelled or suspended and have to go to racial sensitivity classes. She would have been called a racist or a hater but since it’s Donald Trump a rich white business man who became our 45th president and is a republican now it’s ok and is freedom of speech. The left has been pushing this false narrative that Trump is some demagauge or that he’s a racist which is totally ridiculous and wrong. He may be bombastic and says what he feels but he is certainly neither of these. Fine if you disagree with his policies fine but this picture represents Character assassination at the highest form directed at our highest moral leader and the office of President of the United States of America. This is not art but art used as form of vile trash directed at our highest leader
    of this country. Maybe I’m from a different era but if I liked or disliked a president I still respected his office and his position. Even though I don’t believe in destroying or touching another persons property I must admit that who ever did this to this students so called artwork did what a lot of people wanted to do but couldn’t. I feel whoever did this even though it might be wrong did this out of an act of patriotism and his respect for our 45th president of the United States of America.

    [Reply]

  6. Jaime MacDonough on April 21st, 2017 12:37 pm

    I’m unclear whether the last arguement is condeming the act or making it appear as though either defacing or destroying were alright to follow through with? The case in point has to do with infringement on someone else’s opinion/ interpretation/ or expression so long as it’s not harming, or violating their opposing viewers rights.
    I could not agree with the Pres. Bryon Grigsby more. There’s no tolerance for those who deface anyone’s personal property- on display or otherwise.

    [Reply]

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