A group of University of Oregon students swarmed a pro-life preacher this week, outraged over a sign featuring an image of an aborted fetus, which they decried as “violent” and “obscene.” After increasingly tense arguments between the activist and the students, two Oregon students took the sign and began to stomp on it, saying, “This is our campus and we don’t want to have to see this.”
At the beginning of the video—recorded by the president and vice president of the University of Oregon Young Americans for Liberty—one student began screaming at the activist, who remained completely calm, citing abortion statistics in response. The conflict earned the attention of campus officer John Loos, who came over to discuss the activist’s right to be there and hold the sign.
"What I'm here to tell you is that on campus we have additional rules other than just freedom of speech," Officer Loos told the preacher, explaining that the university prohibits offensive or demeaning public expressions. Despite the activist’s clearly calm demeanor, the officer called him the “instigator” of the conflicts and cited an “ASUO rule” about “offensive speech” that he said the activist is breaking.
“I want you to calm down first,” Loos said. “You’re breaking an ASUO rule — I don’t know the rule off the top of my head.”
The activist maintained that he had the right to be there and pushed back against the idea of defining in an objective way what constituted “offensive speech.” He also pointed out that the officer was only talking to him rather than the students, to which the officer responded he would talk to the students about not being “offensive” after their discussion.
When the sergeant arrived, he maintained the activist’s right to be there. "My only concern is that there is no physical violence,” he said. “If everybody is going to stay and yell and scream, that's fine. As long as there's no violence, we're done."
When the officers left, a group of students began to push in closer to the activist, eventually taking his sign and stomping on it, one student saying felt "emotionally threatened" by the sign. The Daily Emerald describes the scene:
History major Allison Rutledge was the first to damage the anti-abortion activist’s poster. She stood on it and claimed that the activist didn’t have a right to display the graphic imagery. The video doesn’t make it clear when the anti-abortion activist’s sign ends up on the ground (it cuts before the action happens).
“This is my property,” the activist said as Rutledge stood on his sign. “Just leave us alone.”
The video cuts after a while, but Rutledge is later seen leading a chant in order to get the anti-abortion activist to leave University of Oregon property.
“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 when contacted for comment. “I didn’t want to look at that obscenity.”
She called the incident a tussle before saying that she felt emotionally threatened by the anti-abortion activist’s sign.
“There’s a limit to what people should be forced to look at,” Rutledge said. “We didn’t like it and we actually made him put his sign away. We had no problem with his opinion, but it was his sign. You can’t just show whatever you want.”
In response to the incident, UO Police Chief Carolyn McDermed a statement to the campus paper emphasizing the department's commitment to "protecting the safe practice of free speech on our campus":
“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.”