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Free Speech Debate Focuses on Posters Decrying U.S. Policy

By Eric Berry

A Lobby 7 drop poster comparing U.S. militarism against civilians abroad to recent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has become the focal point of a free speech debate on campus.

The poster, which was put up by MIT’s chapter of Refuse and Resist, was torn down by a local construction worker, said Anton Van Der Ven, a postdoctoral associate actively involved in the group.

When a female member of the group who was guarding the poster tried to intervene, the construction worker allegedly told her, “ ‘We should kill them all, and kill you, too’,” Van Der Ven said.

The poster condemned Tuesday’s attacks on New York City, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, going on to say, “This tragedy reminds us of the impact of U.S. policy on civilians in other lands. ... Our government’s response must make it clear that this nation will no longer target civilians. This means an end to all military aid to countries like Israel, Colombia, and Turkey.”

The poster was subsequently put back up, and the group contacted the Campus Police, “who have been very supportive” of the group’s right to free speech, Van Der Ven said.

Brice C. Smith G, another active member of Refuse and Resist, defended the poster, saying that “a line has to be drawn between speech that is offensive and that which is harassment.”

Student reactions mixed

Students passing by Lobby 7 questioned the poster’s appropriateness. “There’s a question of whether this is the proper place to put it, said Jaryn E. Finch ’04. “There’s always a question of where free speech is allowed. At some universities this would never be allowed to go up.”

“I personally would not like it to be put up,” said James W. Taylor G, a graduate student in chemical engineering. But given that the administration supports the poster, Taylor said there should be space for opposing viewpoints. “Other people should have the right to respond,” he said. “If it truly is free speech, there should be equal opportunity for rebuttal.”

Jonathan S. Steckel G, a graduate student in chemistry, did not oppose the poster, and believes that students should take charge to express contrary opinions. “If they disagree with it, they should put up a poster next to it,” he said.