The Cavalier Daily
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Fueling the fanatics

Students should just ignore visiting polemic proselytizers

A band trying to judge its success stares out into the crowd. If the room is crowded, it is doing well. Last week’s religious proselytizer who preached from the pulpit of the amphitheater likely operated on the same principle. Although bad music drives concertgoers away, as last week’s series of sermons grew more offensive, the crowd at the amphitheater only grew larger.

This University is no stranger to religious fanatics. The University makes for an ideal forum for those who seek large groups of people in public places where free speech rights are respected. Brother Micah and other proselytizers have come here in the past to condemn fornicators, masturbators, homosexuals, Jews, atheists, and women — groups which collectively include almost any student who happens to walk by.  

Presumably, students want these people to go away, but when they engage the fanatics by yelling back, it only exacerbates the problem. Fanatics, like small children, feed off attention. The best response from students is to simply walk away and ignore and ignore the tantrum. If they don’t receive any attention at the University, they’ll move on to the next college.

Yet there are situations that call for student response. When Westboro Baptist Church, a radical hate group who rose to prominence by protesting United States soldiers’ funerals, announced its intention to protest a performance of The Laramie Project last November, students rightfully organized a counter-protest. Students created posters to support the play and held a vigil outside the Chapel as a way to show student solidarity against this sort of hate speech.

What is the substantive distinction between these seemingly similar groups? Due to the sensitive nature of the Laramie Project, the creation of a controversial, tense atmosphere would have discouraged some students from going, especially those venturing out of their comfort zones by attending the event. The effect on those who choose to come but are harassed as a result, is even worse. The reason for counter-protest against organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church is that their actions can reduce attendance and threaten attendees at student events. Students, therefore, should be there to show their support and solidarity.

Those proselytizing in the amphitheater, on the other hand, are not intimidating students with their actions. They are merely exercising their rights to free speech. There is no need to engage with these evangelists, as it will only encourage them. While many students may find these viewpoints distasteful, being exposed to them does not infringe on a student’s right to attend class or another event. So long as students are not negatively impacted by such speakers, there is no reason to protest their presence. Student energies would be better saved for a time when a real protest is needed.

Unintentionally, these religious fanatics have provided students with an opportunity to think critically about the proper response to extremism. Students need to distinguish between when it is worthwhile to engage polemic speakers and when it is counterproductive. When protesters threaten student space, it is proper and indeed necessary for students to respond. When fanatics come to Grounds simply to draw as large an audience as possible, the best response is for students to keep walking.


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