Why are preachers on the Green allowed? Campus religious leaders give their take

John Newsom

Campus preachers have become aggressive enough that the UNF Interfaith Center has planned an open forum for students and faculty to discuss the issue.

Students and even other campus ministers are reporting a feeling of personal invasion.

Anyone who spends enough time on campus will inevitably encounter a yelling preacher. They camp out all over UNF, and the things they yell are often offensive. Many find this disruption irritating and intrusive. The arrival of a new group of shouters has spurred people on campus to question if there should be limits.

Matt Hartley, leader of the UNF Interfaith Center, said that he understands that such public preaching is important to some people’s beliefs. What concerns Hartley is the growing sentiment that these preachers are making students feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Hartley said he has overheard students saying they felt that a campus preacher had made them feel uncomfortable and violated their personal space.

The preachers are allowed because of the right to free speech. Hartley recalled a time when there were free speech zones around campus, but that has been expanded to include almost all outdoor areas of campus.

“Any religious organization could do this,” Hartley said. The problem is that they don’t. Only the really loud and offensive groups seem to engage in this behavior. What’s the balance?

Even other Christian organizations aren’t on board with this style of preaching. Tommy Park is the head of the UNF chapter of Reformed University Fellowship. He’s been a campus minister for 12 years. He said that when he first got to UNF he would stop and listen to the open-air preachers, but now he just walks by.

Park said he largely disagrees with their messages. He said open-air preachers use a lot of perfectionism language.

“If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself,” Park said.

In Park’s opinion, they’re adding things to the gospel that shouldn’t be there. Park said he believes in Jesus and nothing else as the means for salvation, but that these campus preachers are taking liberties with the bible.

He also said that even if he agreed with their message, he disagrees with their methods.

“Jesus seems like the opposite,” Park said. “He was meeting people where they were at.”

There are a lot of people on campus who don’t identify with any faith. In fact, a 2017 Scientific American article quoted a study allowing that in 2016 over 30 percent of college students didn’t identify with any faith, and between 1990 and 2016, attendance of religious services by college students fell 16 percent. Park knows this. He said the people he sees stopping and talking to these preachers are other Christians looking to debate their message, and not non-religious people.

Park also acknowledged the fact that there is a right to free speech on campus. He said that the yelling preachers make him feel uncomfortable at times, especially when they leave the green and go other places around campus.

The Interfaith Center will be hosting an event on Wednesday that will allow students and faculty to discuss preachers coming on to campus. The discussion is free and will start at 1 p.m. in Founders Hall.


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