The First Amendment Only Goes So Far
Free speech stopes at hate and violence
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 14:09
This past week, as I walked from the bus stop into the south entrance of the Memorial Union on campus, I happened upon a rare thing. Something that, though it has happened before, I have only seen once or twice in my four-year tenure here at NDSU.
As I approached the doors of the Union, a man stood upon the short brick wall that surrounds the three flagpoles outside the Union doors. Before his voice even reached me across the parking lot, I could tell what he was doing. Clutching an open book in one hand, and dramatically waving the other, he beckoned to students earnestly, emphatically, imploringly. His face turned skyward a time or two, and his voice began to become clear as I approached.
My brows furrowed. This was a preacher, of some Christian-based religion, disseminating his views among the student body, imploring any he could reach to listen. Though I myself am a Christian, I found myself curiously annoyed with this situation, and took some strange, cynic enjoyment in the way he so dramatically, comically implored the students to listen and the way not one gave him an ounce of attention.
See, I am proud of my faith. But I can’t abide the hard-line, my-way-or-the-highway religious fanatics. And judging by the words this man was proclaiming, he was a type-a fire-and-brimstone preacher straight from the old days—an interesting tactic to pursue on a college campus, even in a state as red as North Dakota.
But I don’t think that’s what bothered me the most about him. It was something deeper, more basic than that. Now, there are a lot of religious organizations on campus that follow a number of different theologies, many of which are very popular. We have three established campus ministries with chapel buildings located within a block of campus. And considering the place we live in, that is not at all surprising.
It really is wonderful our student body has those groups at their disposal. Because we go to a public university where religion cannot be taught, as it would be at, say, Concordia. It is great for these groups to exist as a place for our students to turn to when they need to seek religion. Just like there are students who choose to seek sports, yoga or reading when they need a break or an outlet or a stress relief, there are students who need religion.
I am okay with that. I think it is great, because nobody is forced to join these groups. And even though they may recruit in the Union on a regular basis, the people are friendly, approachable and not forceful. They don’t insist you listen to their views as you go about your business on campus, they simply ask kindly if you’d like to come and see what their group—their religion—is all about.
And that, I think, is where our preacher-man crossed the line. Unlike the various campus ministries at NDSU, who recruit by getting their name out, this man claimed no affiliation. There was no sign indicating what church he came from, who he represented, or what he was recruiting for. For all we know, he could be a bigoted zealot from the Westboro Baptist Church who wandered onto campus.
Not that he was recruiting. He didn’t even try to persuade anyone to join a group, to attend a club meeting. He didn’t ask anyone how their day was, he didn’t say “hi” to passersby, and he wasn’t giving out freeze pops on the hot, muggy sidewalk.
No, the only thing he was peddling were his views. And that is what I take issue with. This man—no man, nor woman—has any right to come to campus and force their views upon the student body. Especially religious views, and especially at a public university.
Some would claim this man was simply exercising his freedom of speech. Those were his views, that’s what he thinks and he wants to spread those ideas, much in the same way I am spreading my ideas here in the opinion section of this newspaper. And that, I would say, is a decent argument. I would even agree with you if the man was preaching about world peace, about getting along with everyone, being nice to people you meet, smiling and waving at people who seem downtrodden. If he was preaching about reaching out to the poor and the meek and giving them a helping hand, that’s something I could get behind.
But he wasn’t. This man was accusing. He was damning. He told people they were doing wrong, their lives were filled with evil, and they would come to evil if they didn’t join him. Like I said, a real fire-and-brimstone preacher. Instead of trying to implore people to lead better lives for the good of humanity, he said if people didn’t lead better lives soon, they would all burn in hell.
Accusatory. And worse, when no student showed interest in the man’s ravings, he took to drastic measures. He stepped down from his perch of the 18-inch brick wall and confronted people directly. And then he really did it—he stopped a professor on the street, and began accusing him of being an evil person.
And then his real side came out. He accused this professor of thinking rape was okay, that rape was a good thing; that it should be allowed. He accused this man of believing that the Holocaust was not a tragedy, but a celebrated purging of a superior race. He accused a human being of agreeing with the murder of tens of millions of fellow humans.
When this professor denied, dumbfounded as to why it would even be suggested that he agreed with rape and the Holocaust, our preacher man went too far. He said the professor was wrong to think that rape was bad, and that the Holocaust was bad.
According to this man, rape is but an obstacle—in some situations—and some women deserve to be raped. According to this man, the homosexuals who died in the Holocaust were becoming a problem in Europe, and it was good that they perished.
This is where the argument is no longer religious. This is where it is no longer about First Amendment rights. These words are hateful. They are aimed only to hurt, to injure, to kill. And that is where freedom of speech stops—at hate.