College campuses used to be the ideal place to voice one’s opinion, argue over philosophy and ideas, invite discussion with minds focused on learning and debate. They certainly were not places in which dissenting opinions were silenced and sent packing.
Some students at an Illinois college, however, are protesting that a pastor’s open air sermons “qualify as hate speech and are a threat to public safety,” which makes them feel threatened and intimidated.
That’s right: The words that come from his mouth harm them.
Now the administration of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) faces a dilemma over the speaker who has been preaching on campus for more than six years, according to the UK Telegraph.
Tom Rayborn, the church-planting pastor at Redeeming Grace Church in Alton, Ill., says he is there to preach the gospel, discuss religious issues and distribute religious material. Since October, some students have been protesting on the quad every Wednesday when Rayborn delivers his weekly message, demanding that the university bar him from speaking on campus.
The protests led to a meeting on campus on Nov. 15, at which students and faculty were able to discuss their issues about Rayborn with SIUE administration.
“This got started from realizing that there were a lot of students on campus who didn’t feel safe out on the quad on Wednesdays or like they were accepted because of everything that was being said,” said Kimberly Hickman, a third-year anthropology student from Edwardsville who was a co-organizer of the protests.
While the Gay-Straight Alliance and the Philosophy Club both circulated petitions calling for Rayborn’s removal from campus, the protests have drawn many other students and faculty members.
An Oct. 16 demonstration that was intended as a silent counter-protest ended in heated fashion, with people from both sides yelling at one another and becoming aggressive.
The university has narrowed the physical space in which Rayborn speaks and lowered the volume at which he is allowed to speak.
“We’ve met with him numerous times about his rhetoric, and I have personally sat and listened to his remarks,” said SIUE Vice Chancellor for Administration Rich Walker. “Also, we want students to feel safe. To that end, I’ve asked the police chief to have officers on site whenever the man is scheduled to speak.
“But unless he breaks the law, he is free to speak his opinions – far outside our own beliefs and values as they may be.”