By Alan Rivera
Anexchange of arguments between a pool of students and a group ofreligious activistsat Cal Poly Pomona’s University Park on Wednesdaydrew crowds and University Police.
Agroup of preachers voiced their perspectives on topics that ranged from abortion, homosexuality, female indecency and Islam.The incident promptedaUniversity Policepresenceat the scene to ensuresafetyand peaceafter it received complaints, according to University PoliceLieutenantAaron Eaton.
“We had complaints that [the group was] here,” said Eaton.”One of the complaints I think was related to them being loud. The other complaint was that somebody didn’t like whattheywere talking about, so we’d come to investigate it. In this particular case, we don’t see that there’s any crimes being committed, and we’re here just to, again, make sure everybody’s safe.”
Jose Romani, a second-year mechanical engineering student, was at the forefront of the exchange, as he uninhibitedly challengedthe group’s rhetoric, at one point even confronting a member of the religious group.
“I’ve seen them just saying like ‘hey you want to join this?’ I’ve never seen one so aggressive like this. This is the first time I see someone like this in this situation,” said Romani. “I do believe that everyone has a right to free speech, but I do believe that you have to think before you say anything.”
Romani believesthat thetopics discussed by the activistsare controversial and createa distraction for students who attemptto go about their day.
“People are going to get offended.”I just feel kind of disgustedby the kind of speech a little,” said Romani. “The last thing anyone thinks about whenthey’rejust going around totheirnext class is something controversial like abortion, homosexuals and just anything like that. So I just think likeit’sinappropriate and rude to blurt that out in a really loud volume.”
Ajouraye Jefferson, a fourth-year theatre student, found the confrontation entertaining. Jefferson, a self-proclaimed “devout Christian,” believes that the preachers sought to garner attention from students rather than preach Christianity.
“Their goal is attention. Hands down,” said Jefferson. “It’s not even to get their message out, and it’s not even to spread beliefs, not to get followers [or] to spread knowledge of God. It’s just to get attention.”
In the midst of the altercation, however, Jefferson expressed concern for students whomightbe gravely affected by the raw speech of thereligious activists.
“I don’t think [the rights of many people] are being respected,” said Jefferson.”I think it’s extremely offensive, some of the stuff he says, and I feel like a lot of the stuff he sayshas triggers in it ” depending what kind of abuse you have, what kind of life [you have] or the background you have.”
Jefferson also pondered the idea that the preachers’ speech could fuel intolerant sentiment among students whose beliefs might coincide with those of the religious activists. Ultimately, Jefferson worries that argumentative exchanges couldescalate and fuela hate crime.
“I feel like[the religious activists]are a danger to some of the students on campus, depending on their target group, especially because theyhave immense hatred toward them,” said Jefferson.”I wouldn’t be surprised if they could do a hate crime towards them, if they would. I feel like some of their words, if a student is more na_Ò_àve or more on their side, they may be influenced to do those hate crimes. I feel like its highly detrimental to the campus community overall.”
But the religious activistsinsist thatthesepublic displaysare a way they exercisetheir First Amendment rights.
“I’m exercising my First Amendment right, my freedom of speech, according to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution,” said Ryan David”The Radical Reverend”Christian,one of the religious protestors.”Regardless of whether they like the message or I like their feedback, we all have the right to express our opinions.”
Despiteprovocations and insults from some students, Christianbelieves that the delivery of the group’s message is effective in working towards its goal of spreading religious teachings. He believes the success of the group’s actions and intended purpose is reflected in the number of students that stop and listen, engage in argument or skip class to watch.
“This method of evangelism is called confrontational evangelism. The Bible itself is very confrontational,” said Christian.”There’s something that’s keeping them here, and it has nothing to do with me ” it’s the power of God. ” It’s a very effective method. If we came back tomorrow, you’d probably see the same faces out here missing class to listen to us preach all day long.”
According to Christian, althoughthey express”unpopular opinions,”the religious group will continue visiting CPP to answer its “calling.”
La’KeishaBeard, acting director of the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers, was presentduring a portion of the exchange. According to Beard,staff was present to ensure students’ safetywhile engaging in freedom of speech.
Beard explained that CPP is a public university and open campus that supports freedom of speech, which means people are free to express themselves so long as they do not interfere with university operations.
“This is someone practicing their freedom of speech,” said Beard.”It may not be a popular perspective here, but it is a perspective, and they are free to express their perspective.”
Gathering at University Park
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