Street preachers: Freedom of speech or harassment?
Last week, a video uploaded to YouTube showed a street preacher outside Cooper Hall being escorted away by a University Police (UP) Officer.
Officer Philip Eonda was dispatched to the scene after receiving multiple complaints regarding loud and disruptive preaching coming from the area. Eonda reported street preacher Adam LaCroix was violating Florida State Statute (FFS) 877.13, which outlines penalties for disruption in educational institutions.
LaCroix was standing outside Cooper Hall using a sound amplifier to discuss religion with students passing by on their way to class. Unfortunately for him, the loudness of his preaching interfered with the classes being taught, leading to his removal from the area.
What is considered a disturbance does not depend on whether voice amplification is used but rather on whether people complain about the offender, according to UP Captain Meg Ross.
This is far from the first time USF has faced complaints regarding the brash and often offensive street preachers that loiter near Cooper Hall, the library and the Marshall Student Center.
For years, students have been gritting their teeth and pushing past the men who claim to represent forgiveness and compassion but instead scream damnation on all those attending the university.
While most students simply ignore the insults, there have been cases where situations quickly got out of hand. One of the more dramatic events was in 2008 when a member of the USF rugby team choked a preacher that had repeatedly called his girlfriend “slut” and “whore.”
It seems no one enjoys the rants demonstrated by these street preachers. Threatening damnation is a completely unsuccessful way to win students over with your cause. While everyone is entitled to free speech, the effectiveness of this tactic seems highly questionable.
How many people actually convert to Christianity — or any religion for that matter — after being harassed and told they were going to burn for eternity for their lifestyle?
If you want someone to be open to hearing your message, perhaps you should consider dialing back the hate and speaking with the love and compassion your religion champions. Attacking students will not further your mission; In reality, it only continues to isolate those you claim to want to reach.
College campuses are full of people with an array of passions and interests, making it a perfect environment for cause recruitment. Students love to get involved and find people who share similar beliefs and many are willing to listen to those endorsing a subject.
However, the second you go from calmly explaining an issue to criticizing your audience, you lose any chance you had at making an impact. The First Amendment helps make the U.S. a great place to live, but there should be a line between exercising your right and disturbing the peace.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.