On a recent pleasant fall day, I walked to class through the Diag only to be disrupted by raucous, odious sermons emanating from an insane so-called messenger of Christ. My experience isn’t an isolated one. The Diag is regularly abused by religious extremists in order to promote their beliefs in an uncouth and hateful manner. These religious extremists should be banned from preaching on campus because they are in clear violation of the official discrimination policies put in place by the University to ensure that students live in a welcoming and hospitable environment.

Undoubtedly, religious freedom is vital to an accepting environment on any college campus. But there is a discernible difference between hate-spewing preachers on the Diag and student organizations such as the Campus Crusade for Christ and Muslim Student Association, which promote an inclusive environment while proliferating their message. They have respect and tolerance for others’ beliefs. The University is an excellent place to become accustomed to the unfamiliar, and religion is no exception — but many Diag preachers don’t contribute anything even remotely conducive to a healthy exchange of information on campus.

Certain hate-filled Diag preachers are irritating and offensive — but this isn’t enough to propose banning them from University property. Free speech is protected to a certain extent on campus, as it should be. Excerpts from the University Statement on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression state: “Expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance… the belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, or in any other way detestable cannot be grounds for its suppression.”

This portion of the University’s policy seems to be tolerant of the preachers’ diatribes. But these evangelists take their messages a step too far and violate the discrimination and harassment codes. They are an example of lax enforcement of the codes, since their words are clear examples of “bias incidents” on campus. Bias incidents are defined as “non-criminal activities that harm another because of that person’s race, color, national origin or ancestry, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, height, weight, marital status and veteran status.” Protections against bias and discrimination exist for a good reason — campus without those rules may become an uninviting atmosphere for both current and potential students.

The Diag evangelists regularly hurl verbal abuses that are clearly defined as “bias incidents” at passersby. For example, one can often hear plentiful examples of clear anti-homosexual rhetoric as well as religious intolerance like, “homosexuality is a sin, you’re going to Hell,” or, “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior or be subject to eternal damnation!” These types of incidents, which at least qualify as “insulting comments” based on sexual orientation and religion — apart from being simply baseless and offensive — are what should qualify as bias rather than the joking profanity often scrawled on dry-erase boards in the residence halls. This enforcement of the bias rules is inconsistent and asinine.

Banning the preachers would be aligned with the University’s interests of protecting its students from sources of discomfort on campus — especially since the Diag is a location universally frequented by the student population. Hateful religious sermonizers can preach away on city property, but they have no place at the University. Any action taken to prevent them from speaking could only strengthen religious dialogue on campus. Let’s put into effect the rules that were designed to protect us on campus, President Coleman: no more hateful soapbox drama on the Diag. I know I’m not the only one offended.

Harsha Panduranga can be reached at harshap@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.