Guest Viewpoint: Yes Bible-Thumpers, You Are Welcome On Our Campus

They say yoga pants are sin. That if you don’t repent and accept Christ you’re going to hell. They demean women, gay and lesbian people, “fornucators,” and liberals. They’re not pleasant. “You’re not welcomed here!” one woman shouted at them on Wednesday. But, and though I vehemently disagree with their message, I’m here to tell you the bible thumpers, most notably “Brother Jed” and his crew, who visit our campus regularly to preach fire and brimstone are definitely welcome here.

“How can we tolerate this hate speech on our campus?” one seethingly irate woman yelled to a crowd which gathered at the EMU Amphitheater on Wednesday to watch Brother Jed and his antics. Well, the answer is twofold.

On one hand we tolerate it because hate speech in the United States is legal. Brother Jed and his buddies have every right to say what they want — regardless of its hateful content — on our campus or on any other public property.

On the other hand, we’re better than that. As members of the University of Oregon, we should know how to keep walking. Engaging Jed and other protesters, regardless of their message, is what they want. They want a scene and they want you to crack. Don’t let them eat at you. Agree to disagree and just keep walking. If you must stop and talk, do just that. Don’t stoop to their level of ad hominem attack. Don’t get emotional. Be civil. Be an adult. Demonstrate self control.

Truth is, the bible thumpers are exercising their right of freedom of speech. Sadly, in policy and in practice the University of Oregon has a history of failing to protect that right on our campus. In fact, our university has the lowest possible rating for protecting freedom of speech according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The way many students react to rhetoric they don’t like is appalling, childish, and mean, resembling the tactics of the bible thumpers themselves. If the university is to be the place it ought to be, a place where the open exchange of ideas, however controversial, remains sacred, then incoming president Michael Schill, ASUO president Helena Schlegel, and cultural groups on campus must affirm that all are welcome here and free speech will be upheld.

Gordon Friedman
Editor in Chief, Ethos Magazine

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