Engaging with preachers on campus bears no productive outcome as students fall to the same level as the provocateurs

In Opinion
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Shouting disparaging comments and insult-driven rebuttals are becoming common responses to oppositional thinking at Cal State Fullerton and other campuses. In a place of education, these exchanges are immature and accomplish nothing.

This case of aimless debate comes in the form of hatred students display toward fervent preachers. Individuals who openly deliver contentious and provocative sermons on campus invoke their First Amendment right to do so, but rather than sparking productive debate, they bring out the worst in people.

Preachers like Jed Smock, Gary Birdsong and Tom Short have continuously dedicated their lives to full-time ministry by traveling onto multiple campuses to spread their word, according to USA Today.

Smock, who has described his 38-year approach as “confrontational Christianity” states that he attempts to speak to students in order to make them “understand Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation,” according to USA Today.

Smock’s self-proclaimed “confrontational Christianity,” although crude and hateful, is protected under the First Amendment no matter how offensive it is, according to the ACLU.

Seeing as CSUF is a public university, this allows preachers for certain spaces on this campus and others like it to be used as forums to inform students of their beliefs.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) explains that being a public university is categorically in a special “niche” under the First Amendment. According to FIRE, the Supreme Court has held that public universities serve as necessary bastions for democracy and free speech.

Students are also afforded the same privileges as the individuals who come to these academic realms to preach. However, this does not imply that students should use similar tactics in order to combat unfavorable speech or censor it.

In a YouTube video uploaded March 9 on Smock’s official channel, the interaction between students and preachers is visibly hostile in the CSUF quad.

After being told to “get the f*** down” and leave with his “stupid little bible,” the visiting preacher says in the video that “these women (those confronting him) are so wild.”

Soon after, another student joins in and discusses previous comments the preacher made and questions if his mother would appreciate the language he uses toward women in his message. The preacher quickly states his mother loves what he does, which incites another spectator to yell an obscenity about his mother.

The video continues with a swapping of verbal insults by both parties and no real shifting of ideas or compassion.

This description isn’t an anomaly.

Campuses like the University of North Carolina, University of Arizona and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga have faced similarly hostile exchanges between students and visiting preachers. With educational institutions facing mounting pressures from students, speech codes and “free–speech zones” have circulated as avenues to subdue unwanted speech, according to FIRE.

But this matter shouldn’t be left to the schools to defend students they are attempting to integrate into the real world. It should be handled properly by the very students engaging in the debates.

We shouldn’t have to censor someone’s ability to voice their opinion if it’s not physically harmful. Annoyance is not against the law. If a preacher wants to preach, it’s their right to do so and if a student wants to speak up in opposition, they should.

That being said, students who completely disregard a preacher with the same hate they are arguing against falter in the same way. Compassion might not start from the aggressor, but it shouldn’t continue with those who know better.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Maybe that’s exactly the approach students should bestow onto preachers, instead of equally hostile behavior.

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