A protest against religious speakers on campus

Over the past few years, colleges have become ground zero for debates over what constitutes free speech.


It was a typical morning at San Francisco State University when Ken Ferrer and two fellow Christian activists arrived on campus to stage their demonstration.

The trio set up in highly-trafficked area of campus, armed with signs that read: “WARNING, fake Christians, homosexuals, abortionists, party animals, rebellious women, liars, Muslims, masturbators, murderers, liberals, crossdressers, Buddhists…HELL AWAITS.

Before long, their provocative display drew a crowd of angry students. Then, violence broke out.

It’s unclear which side struck first, but the assembly quickly turned from a tense religious demonstration into a chaotic brawl. Ken Ferrer found himself doused in coffee as he and his fellow activists fought to stay afoot. Meanwhile, furious students tried to tear their signs away.

University police were called in to de-escalate the situation, and the activists were escorted off campus for safety reasons.

While no serious injuries occurred, critics say it’s the latest example of a growing intolerance toward religious beliefs – particularly on college campuses.

The Hate Speech Debate

This event, and others like it, highlight ongoing issues regarding the right to free speech, especially as it pertains to religious expression. In theory, freedom of speech covers everything aside from direct threats or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

But in practice, unrestrained free speech has proven a hot-button issue – especially on college campuses. Over the past few years, colleges have become ground zero for debates over what constitutes free speech.

Controversial speakers draw the ire of students, who accuse them of using hate speech and protest their very presence on campus. Increasingly, this “hate speech” label is being used to fight back against contentious ideas, and, in some cases, is even be used to justify violence against those who spread them. There are those who argue that hate speech is itself a form of violence, and responding to such ideas with violence can therefore be rationalized.

Is Religion Welcome on Campus?

Students at the SF State protest appeared to echo such sentiments. Although some condemned the use of violence against the Christian speakers, others seemed more ambivalent about it. “He dropped a match on a powder keg,” said one student. “Having somebody on a campus with a sign like that should be considered hate speech,” explained another.

So what to make of all this?

On the one hand, the message brought by the religious activists was clearly not a peaceful one. One must sincerely doubt whether they actually planned to change any minds that day. Being provocative is a more likely goal.

On the other hand, responding by pouring coffee and throwing punches is completely juvenile. Bad ideas must be countered with good ideas. Violence is never acceptable – no matter how offensive we might find something.   

The Future of Free Speech

Regardless of your religious affiliation, the trend on college campuses to equate speech with violence is a worrying one. Consider this: how can we determine what types of speech constitute violence? Unlike violence, speech is up for interpretation. What one person might consider hate speech, another might see as a rational argument.

It’s hard to misinterpret a punch, but it’s easy for an idea to be misconstrued.

Ultimately, we could all benefit from acting more respectfully — especially if we hope for opposing sides to hear our point of view.

 

48 comments

  1. John Owens says:

    Free speech is free for everyone, or it is not free speech.

    1. Tom says:

      John is right..whoever started the violence does not believe in free speech…as long as there is no inciting to violence, it remains simply free speech, with which many disagree…usually those who react violently are those who are actually paranoid about their own values…if you are comfortable with your own values, you do not react violently to those who criticize them…Tom

  2. Gilbert Mason says:

    Hate speech is free speech. Although the language on the sign was unfavorable by most, there was no call to violence. An example of a call to violence would be a death threat, which is illegal and punishable in a court of law.

    It is unclear to me whether the location is private or public property. If it was private property, the sign holder would need to get permission, and if he had none, he would be escorted off the premises.

    The people that attacked him did break the law. It’s called assault and battery.

    The proper response to unfavorable free speech or hate speech is to either ignore it or engage in a constructive debate.

    Suppressing this individual’s right to free speech is a form of fascism. Congrats, Leftists. You just enacted the very thing you claim to be against.

    1. William says:

      You assume it was the students that started it despite the story explicitly saying we don’t know who started it. Also, how morally repugnant person goes looking for a fight by essentially getting up in peoples’ faces screaming “I hate you in the name of my loving god” and what sort of sicko defends that choice in the comments section of a blog?

      1. John Owens says:

        The article also kinda assumes that the way it was reported is the way it happened. I’m pretty sure that cannot be true, as it almost never is. There are no photographs of the offensive placards, and no recordings of the hateful speech, therefore, no evidence, other than hearsay.

        1. John Owens says:

          …and no one said, “I hate you in the name of my loving god.” It also doesn’t say they got in their faces. All that is a product of your imagination. Just saying.

    2. Gilbert Mason says:

      It is highly unlikely that the christian struck first. Of course he has a provocative message, and sure he has a little bit of that west boro approach. But so what? You don’t have to engage with him. It’s not your job to police other people’s freedom of speech – even if it’s bad speech. This whole social justice warrior mentality is common in the cause of assault cases. It’s highly likely that this is one of those cases.

      If you don’t like what someone else has to say, then stand next to them with your own sign and say the opposite.

      I support everyone’s right to free speech, including yours. But we are not cavemen. We don’t get angry and start attacking people cause their words make us feel uncomfortable.

    3. Karsten Johansson says:

      > there was no call to violence

      I would say that “HELL AWAITS” is a pretty serious threat.

      Either way, the Bible is full of statements like this, so it is pretty hard to argue against its legitimacy. I do believe it is not the Christian’s job to put words in God’s mouth though. And these so-called Christians have surely done that.

      1. John Owens says:

        Saying Hell awaits is not a threat at all. Everyone IS going to die. That is not any kind of threat. Hell is waiting. Now some people interpret Hell differently than others. The word translated Hell in the Bible comes from three different words (in the books from Matthew to Revelation {I don’t say OT and NT, because those expressions do not actually apply to books or collections of books}) translated Hell in the KJV. One is just a burning rubbish heap– greek word- gehenna, referring to a dump in the valley of the sons of Hinnom. One refers to the restrained condition of fallen angels who were cast to Earth and held here–greek- tartaroo, and one refers to the grave. The Hebrew words translated Hell will have corresponding meanings. None of them refers to the Hell of fable and popular jokes, as in a fire that burns forever and ever, torturing both the incorrigibly wicked and any poor soul who was never drawn by God in the first place, like the natives of South America centuries ago and the modern Chinese of today. That would be a silly, petty, vindictive god to torture them forever and ever, and quite simply is not the God taught in the scripture.

  3. James says:

    I agree. You can walk away, speak your opinion, or just smile in agreement. If they follow you, strike you, etc. Then you have another God given right :self defense!

  4. Bill Kinsland says:

    As odious and hateful as the people carrying the signs may be…and their message moreso…it’s only a sign. It is non-violent expression of their viewpoint. As such, it is protected by the First Amendment. We should ask ourselves what would Jesus do? What would Gandhi do? What would Martin Luther King, Jr. do? They would never back down….but they would never throw a punch or toss coffee…or do any other violent act.

    1. Marcel French says:

      Hateful speech be it written or spoken is inciting violence in and of itself, instead of religion what humanity needs is enlightenment. Dogma is the mind killer, it also is the leading cause violence as incited by the unenlightened and there by involved. The point of physical existence is to develop a soul and add to the enlightenment of all, one lifetime at a time.

  5. Zea Weis says:

    I would of stood right next to the speakers with a sign saying..This is why I’m not a Christian”..With an arrow pointing at them..And not say word…
    Violence is unacceptable…I could get my point across with out a word…Weather we like the speech or not everyone has a voice.. with a permit.

    1. Marcel French says:

      Free speech dose not mean free to pass judgement or free to persecute based on one’s own ideology political or religious beliefs. Like all things free speech must be used responsibly and without the intent to persecute or pass judgement on anyone else ever.

      1. William says:

        Nothing about the notion of free speech requires civility. You can absolutely judge people and disagree with them, even heckle someone for his beliefs. People seem to think that free speech is a chance for people to put their opinions out there without challenge; it’s not.

        1. Tom says:

          William…i agree with your comment about free speech…but i suggest that if one wants to communicate/debate, civility (and hopefully respect) will make it possible…peace…Tom

    2. Marcel French says:

      Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to pass judgement or impose persecution upon anyone for any reason if you can’t use it responsibly and use it right you don’t really need to use it at all.

      1. John Owens says:

        That statement is hideously flawed. It is not persecution to tell someone that what they are doing is wrong. It is not passing judgment. It is making an observation and warning of the consequences. Example: “Don’t light that cigarette! There are gas fumes here! You’ll be burned badly!” The religious version of that is, ” Don’t practice adultery of any kind! There are consequences!” (which there ARE). Besides that, as I said before, free speech is free for everyone, or it isn’t free. You cannot justify physical violence in the way that you are trying to do. There is no justification.

  6. drrgrivera says:

    HUMAN BEINGS LIKE YOU, DON’T WANT YOU EXERCISING YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH
    WHERE THEIR AT?
    GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. IT’S THAT SIMPLE.
    THERE IS PLENTY OF ROOM, SPACE AND PEOPLE
    FOR YOU SATISFY YOUR SENSE OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH; INSTEAD OF A BUSTED LIP, BROKEN NOSE OR BLACK EYE!
    YOU CAN EVEN AVOID A BIG BUMP ON YOUR HEAD AND
    IT’LL KEEP PEOPLE FROM IDENTIFYING YOU AS
    THE GUY WHOSE GOD COULDN’T PROTECT FROM A BUMP ON THE HEAD.

    YOU ALSO HAVE THE RIGHT TO [REMAIN SILENT].
    IT’LL PROTECT YOU FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT INTERESTED
    IN WHAT YOU THINK OR DO.

    1. JOHN MAHER says:

      drrgrivera, KOOL !!!

  7. j says:

    What better place for boasters their personal phaneron of biblical teaching to others & then start swinging (or rtn the swing) in a free for all. Most (not all) these ppl that advertise their position / beliefs are mostly done out of EGO… WOW, makes me wanna run right out there & join their religion, their religion of “EGO”.

  8. j says:

    John 3:16? N.T. For god (love) so love the world. AKA = For love (god) so loved the world, HE” ??? (Does love have a gender)? gave HIS only son? We are all the sons of LOVE. Christians portraying “the WORD” in this manner? AND doing it while being ready to throw / rtn the punch? Is this an insult to reality?

  9. Jeffery Simpson says:

    Ignorance can be found anywhere and everywhere. At our Universities and Colleges on the job and in the streets, Psychology 101, Humans insult and destroy the things they don’t understand. Everyone’s avoiding the true Issue, IS GOD A fable or reality and they’re fighting over that, not free speech, because free speech is combated by free speech and not violence. Want to learn About God and be able to dictate to someone the facts and evidence, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE GET AN EFFEN EDUCATION INSTEAD OF JUST SPOUTING NONSENSE. Free speech is a MUST IN ANY FREE SOCIETY, TAKE THAT AWAY AND OPPRESSION ENSUES. The same goes for the 3 numb skulls with the signs, I promise you they are no CHRISTIANS and didn’t have God on their minds, they had an alternate motive that day and it wasn’t to lead folks to God. They wanted to start a fight through non-physical aggression. The problem is, it worked, 3 people set off a crowd of #@%#. I don’t condone violence on a mundane level it causes anarchy and divides a people. We all must agree to disagree peacefully. That’s the only way to an enlightened society and a peaceful world.

  10. John Owens says:

    Yep. That’s why I’m being moderated so heavily. My comments have to be thoroughly examined to be sure there is no hate-speech in them, or bullying.

    1. Tom says:

      John…i have never found your comments to involve hate, harassment, bullying etc…and i do not feel there should be “moderating” (censoring)…if someone posts hate speech, it is no different than a campus sign…Tom

    2. joseph says:

      I can assure you as a moderator, all comments and commenters are treated the same.

      1. John Owens says:

        They often sit so long they are irrelevant by the time they are actually posted.

  11. Tom says:

    ULC…please identify yourself as a censor, and then stop the activity…thank you…Tom

    1. joseph says:

      Tom, we only censor threats and if you divulge someone’s personal information. You are in no way being censored.

      1. Tom says:

        Joseph…thank you for the response, which i just saw…i will also appreciate knowing how you select comments to “moderate”, as i never intentionally threaten anyone…Tom

    2. Michael says:

      Tom, the Constitution gives you the right to speak your mind, but does not guarantee a venue for you to do so. If you don’t like how ULC handles your comments, you are free to make them elsewhere. You make the rules for your sandbox, and ULC makes the rules for theirs.

      1. Tom says:

        Michael…respectfully, this has nothing to do with the constitution, venues or any structure…in my view, i am expressing my opinion…it is up to the ULC to decide to respond or not…whether or not it responds will not deter my further comments and questions…to me, that is the point of a blog…peace…Tom

        1. Tom says:

          ULC…again i reiterate my opposition to censorship…Tom

  12. Michael says:

    More than one First Amendment issue in this fracas. Freedom from religion, freedom of speech, and right to assembly. Which, if any, takes precedence over the others? My thoughts run to Freedom from religion being the highest priority in this particular instance – the group should not have been permitted to preach on the campus of a publicly funded school. As the courts consistently rule, it gives the appearance that the government actively supports whatever religion is assembling and wants to force the rest of the population to adhere to it.

    That is not a defense of the students who committed acts of violence.

    1. John Owens says:

      If the school allows sociologists, psychologists,philosophers and atheists to speak (which it does every day), then the school is, in effect, sponsoring a religion.

      1. JOHN MAHER says:

        JOHN BOOGIE BUTTERFLY OWINS SO then LETTING YOU SPEAK is SURELY SPONSORING IGNORANCE, NO PUTO !!! and EVEN MORE DOTAR ORANGUtRUMP and ROY cowgirl MOORE.

  13. Bill Fox says:

    Why should Christianity be exempt from criticism? Many doctrines, dogmas, and traditions are foisted as “Christianity”, when in reality, they are theology not found in scripture. Christianity if for those who want it, not those who need it.

    1. John Owens says:

      Nothing wrong with rational criticism. Most people and institutions need that, in order to improve themselves. I agree that mainstream Christianity is full of unscriptural dogma.

      1. JOHN MAHER says:

        JOHN BOOGER BUTTERFLY OWINS, DO U EVER SPEAK FROM UR TERRIBLE MIND and NOT COPY from a SCRIPT ??? DOTAR ORANGUtRUMP and ROY lick the babies MOORE have the SAME PROBLEM !!!

        1. John Owens says:

          What are you on about, Maher? I speak only pure, unadulterated wisdom.

  14. Dr. F350 says:

    sounds from their actions like those sign wavers didn’t get whooped enough as children (maybe due to lib parenting). I bet those students did them all a favor in the long run

    1. JOHN MAHER says:

      YEAH Dr. 350 I BET YOUR DADDY took YOUR PANTs DOWN a LOT, QUE CHURRO !!! DOTAR ORANGUtRUMP and ROY baby dater MOORE

  15. T'Keren Valmaz says:

    It was not merely questionable speech when a christian says your going to hell that can very much be considered violent threat. Just as in recent years the phrase Ill rape your soul has also come under fire. since obviously a souls very existence is debatable saying one would rape it sounds hollow and even like utter nonsense. Yet it has been deemed a threat worthy of legal action in the last few years.

    Whenthey say things clearly contrary to good health like condemning masturbation then they are actually promoting an anti health attitude which is also threatening others.

    Christian extremists like these 3 men are one step away from walking into schools and splashing acid on the women for not being slaves to a mans needs.

    The moment you take your faith from private to public you become an active threat to others. You can not know what kind of life experiences and trauma someone may have had. If a person walking by those 3 had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a preist, been abused physically at the hands of christian parents who practices extreme views etc they those 3 men where certainly causing such individuals serious new trauma just by being out there with signs.

    Our freedom of religion is one that protects personal faith but it does not give us the right to push it on others. Those 3 where pushing it on others. Church property is for such displays not any other area.

    1. JOHN MAHER says:

      HEAR,HEAR T’Keren Valmaz, GREAT INPUT,…….. DUMP DOTAR ORANGUtRUMP and ROY baby dater MOORE

    2. John Owens says:

      Saying you are going to Hell is not a violent threat, any more than saying you are going to get a venereal disease is a violent threat. Certain behaviors lead to certain consequences. If you are a member of a violent gang, or are a burglar, mugger, rapist or armed robber, it is not a violent threat to tell you that you have a very good chance of dying a violent and untimely death. THOSE ARE WARNINGS OF DANGER. Telling you to shut up or I will make you wish you had is a violent threat.

      Saying masturbation is wrong is not an “anti-health attitude”, and IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER threatens others. You are making unbelievable leaps and loops in logic to try to make your points. Masturbation is a release mechanism but one usually has to imagine something to make it effective, and all too often, one imagines things that are forbidden by custom, religion, or law. There is no way that it is healthy to fantasize about doing things that one should not do. That is negative self-programming.

      You cannot equate preaching to an active threat. It is NOT AT ALL related or close to splashing acid on women. That is patently absurd. Their preaching would not have traumatized the victim of a priestly abuser. Their preaching condemned the abusive activity of the abuser. . Your mindset is noticeably anti-religious, which is your absolute right, but that doesn’t mean you are correct in your thinking or your assertions. Perhaps if you were less hyperbolic in your comparisons, you may have a valid point in there somewhere, but it is difficult to spot because of all the extreme anti-religious paranoia revealed.

  16. L Ron Gilmore 🥀 (@satanarchism) says:

    I can’t find any mention of this with a quick search online. It really depends on the group. If it’s “Patriot Prayer” then they’re not Christian activists, they’re openly fascist and using colleges to recruit people for violence. No different than ISIS.

  17. businessfirstfamily says:

    This demonstration brings up a good point. Free speech without a doubt is the whole basis of American culture and society. Legally, we can’t censor anyone, hate speech or not. There are resources like e-verify that allow employers to avoid hiring those with a history of hate speech. You’re right, we need to be respectful to other side (whichever it may be) if we want to be heard as well.

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