Freedom of speech is crucial to our society in order to maintain democracy in the United States. But at what point does this freedom to spread one’s beliefs turn into hate speech? Recently, there have been hateful comments and remarks being hurled at students by men who stand in the Circle and tell people they are going to hell.
You’ve probably seen this group in person, heard a friend talk about them or seen them featured on someone’s social media story. These people come by several times throughout the school year to spread their religious beliefs. They set up in the Circle or by Fulton Chapel and start telling people who walk by they are going to hell.
There is a fine line between talking about your religion in a free and public space and verbally abusing someone for their race, sexual orientation or gender.
I often catch myself wanting to shout hateful comments back at them. I’ve memorized various Bible verses that I could use to negate their arguments. On my way to class, I’ve rehearsed various scenarios in my head of ways to dispute whatever sexist argument that they had to say. But none of these things seemed to quite reach the level of anger I’ve recently felt.
Instead of rehearsing verses or scenarios, however, I decided to start asking myself questions.
Why do these men keep coming back, year after year to our campus? Why are there UPD officers on standby, waiting to break up any conflict that might occur? Why are there so many social media accounts that feature these men sharing their message of hate? It wasn’t until I was so angry that these men were allowed to spread so much hate on campus that I began to realize why they keep coming back. It’s because students keep giving these men a platform.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been guilty in the past of laughing while they go on a rant about their religious beliefs. I’ve even been pointed at by one of the men and told that “whores don’t make it to heaven.”
When students stop in the Circle to laugh at or argue with them, it gives these men exactly what they want. They want validation that they are reaching someone, anyone, with their messages of hate and fear. I understand that some people are doing this in an attempt to make fun of these men or to belittle their arguments. By stopping to listen to the speeches of these men and featuring them on social media accounts, though, people are still spreading their hateful content across campus.
Whether you believe in the messages or not, stopping and acknowledging their existence is essentially giving them a reason to come back again and again. All I ask is that students who don’t believe in these messages think twice about featuring these men on their social medias. Every time you stop and record them for Snapchat or Instagram stories, you give them an even bigger platform to spread these ideals and beliefs to even more students.
Madison Bickert is a senior international studies and German major from Corinth.
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