Westboro at UC

Westboro Baptist Church members protest current social and political issues on the University of Cincinnati’s campus.

When first-year students walk around a college campus, they will often have to face public demonstrations that will make them uncomfortable. Many of these demonstrations include subjects of religion, abortion, the economy, race and climate. These messages can be stressful to students who already have enough concerns in their academic lives.

Yet, The First Amendment to the United States Constitution allows students or the public, to hold demonstrations on college campuses:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In the past, many of these demonstrations led to good causes. Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement gained a lot of support on college campuses. 

Recently however, many of these demonstrations have led to violence. 

So how should students handle these demonstrations?

To start, these demonstrations can’t be shut down. The United States is one of the few countries in the world where free speech is recognized as a human right and protected by law. Throwing this privilege away because you disagree with someone’s perspective is irrational. 

Do we confront them at these demonstrations? If you are emotionally mature enough, then yes. By emotionally mature, it means you can take on bigotry and debate hate on reason and logic, without resorting to violence.

College was founded on the basis of learning and debating ideas, which includes the ones you may not agree with.

When Westboro Baptist Church came to UC in fall 2018 and espoused its controversial rhetoric, counter protesters came to protest. The counter protesters came with signs, slogans and scolded the so-called church on why its logic was so backward. 

The group was forced to leave after its protest went nowhere. This was all done without a single drop of violence. It was a model example of how a counter protest should be. 

However, most of the public demonstrations on campus aren’t high-profile, and are obscure fringe groups. This won’t draw a large counter-protest group like the one against the Westboro Baptist Church. So, what is the best strategy in this case?  

Ignore them. 

Yup, just walk on by. 

These fringe groups thrive on attention and reactions. Giving them attention by yelling and being confrontational is counterproductive. Big name groups like Westboro Baptist Church are different because they are already a big name but this isn’t the case for fringe groups. The best way to combat their ideas is to give them no acknowledgement at all. 

The best way to fight bad ideas?

Don’t give them the light of day.