Preachers have no place on a college campus

The presence of preachers here on campus hurts students

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Sage Fusco, Collegian Contributor

At least once a week, in the green between the Campus Center and Goessmann Laboratory, elevated above a crowd of students — stopped to listen, record and debate — is a local preacher who passes his time propagating Christian beliefs to all in ear shot. He talks of God and sin, condemns those he believes to be wrong and belts his own interpretations of the Bible. His sermon changes from time to time, but essentially, he spreads the same ideas.

This is neither a unique experience to the University of Massachusetts nor a new act. Campus preachers are just about everywhere and have been for a long time. Their goal is to reach the malleable minds of tomorrow, and the prime spot to do so is at colleges packed to the brim with them. Many campus preachers spend time traveling around from one school to the next, and some have even gained fame by doing so. Micah Armstrong, aka Brother Micah, travels from university to university preaching to students on gender roles, masturbation, fornication, drug use, drinking, homosexuality and a great deal more. He often tells stories and preaches in the form of song, one example being what he calls the “Homo” song. Other preachers may take different approaches such as Gary Birdsong, aka ‘The Pit Preacher,’ a frequenter of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and other North Carolina universities. In an interview, Birdsong admits to participating in verbal warfare and considers an abrasive approach that riles up the crowd to be most effective. Plenty of other preachers go to universities and act in very similar manners, riling up the crowd and performing while condemning students to hell in an attempt to make them God-fearing and Jesus-loving.

While these preachers may seem virtually harmless, they pose a threat to universities and their students. They should not be able to use a college campus as a forum for their religious thought. Physically, they may only cause sidewalk traffic, but their ringing voices are detrimental in other ways. Many preachers are often extremists believing in radical views which they aim to inflict on passerby. It isn’t rare for these preachers to be calling students out as ‘sinners,’ chastising them for drinking, berating them for having sex, denouncing them for their sexual preference or simply attacking people based on their own outdated and sexist views. Not so shockingly, students find their presence uncomfortable and don’t enjoy the harassment they receive on the way to class.

It’s not lost upon me that students in college are mainly above the age of 18 and can make their own choices. I get that most have already set their own religious and moral standards. While it’s expected of them to simply ignore the preacher harassing them as they walk by, this shouldn’t be a standard. Students should not feel unwelcome on their own campus and their education should not be compromised.

UMass is a school where students are encouraged to be different and told that their, “Voices, experiences, and backgrounds shape our community.” Approximately a third of the student population is made up of Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American or other races and ethnicities. About half the students identify as female. The school is LGBTQ+ inclusive and has incorporated gender neutral bathrooms and offers gender inclusive housing. Our student body is built on individuality and welcomes it. But having a preacher who does not accept this diversity and views it as a sin completely uproots what UMass stands for. Students are here to learn and that is the single attribute that matters. So, there is no need for someone who is not here to learn but to harass, lecture and impart their religion over someone else’s.

The biggest issue with keeping out preachers unfortunately is that as a public university we cannot restrict the open areas of the campus from outsiders. Similarly, this makes the greens, sidewalks and many other parts of our campus a public forum for anyone to express themselves under the first amendment, which does not restrict so-called hate speech. Due to this, the University should make an effort to find solutions for discouraging their presence on campus. Ultimately, while the preachers are allowed to think what they wish and are free to practice whatever religion they desire, they should not be bringing their interpretations to an educational facility.

Sage Fusco can be reached at [email protected]