Issues regarding freedom of religion and speech have taken center stage at SF State after a group of self-proclaimed born-again Christians, known as Cry to God, incited heated reactions from students Thursday, Feb. 15 in the Quad at Malcolm X Plaza.
The trio arrived on campus that afternoon bearing a sign with slogans such as “sport nuts,” “pot smoking little devils,” “party animals,” “homos” and “dykes on bikes” among others which they said were words of “God’s impending judgment.”
One of the Cry to God members, J.K., who declined to give a last name, attracted attention by shouting, “Stop masturbating and start believing in Jesus.”
Students expressed their disapproval of Cry to God’s approach by engaging in impassioned debates that eventually turned into a fierce shouting match between all involved.
“I don’t think they’re going about this in the right way,” creative arts major, Amber Bruce, 24, said. “It’s creating confrontation, which is not useful.”
Matters escalated when members J.K. and Kevin, who also declined to give a last name, started to verbally attack specific students based on race and sexual orientation.
“What they’re doing is disgusting,” Paige Parker, a 20-year-old recreation, parks and tourism major, said.
She has encountered them on campus before and is skeptical of their motives, specifically their use of a hand-held camera, with which they record every demonstration and post on their website.
“I don’t think this is real and they just come to SF State to cause a ruckus,” Parker said.
Kevin said that they do not belong to any particular organization, but instead choose to travel with their message.
“We preach all around and we’ve been here before,” J.K.’s wife, Evangelista, said as she passed out “Get Out of Hell Free” cards while her husband debated with students.
In the time since, students addressed their concerns on the SFSU Confessions Facebook page.
The incident raised questions about the legality of such demonstrations and distinguishing the difference between free speech and hate speech.
Professor Abrol Fairweather took interest in the topic and facilitated a class discussion in his World Religions 502 class.
He posed similar questions and asked, “Where do we draw boundaries?”
“The event raises so many issues it is hard to narrow it down,” Fairweather said. “The rancor of the Cry of God group seems concerning, and perhaps very un-Christian.”
Students were shocked by the intensity of Cry to God’s approach after viewing the video depicting Thursday’s events posted online by Xpress.
“It represents a bad image of Christians,” Alex Cho said, a Christian also present during Cry to God’s demonstration. “Other believers and I were apologizing because what these people were doing was morally wrong.”
The general consensus from students was that reactions like the ones from Thursday’s events are to be expected when dealing with such delicate topics as religion. However, they believe that measures should be taken by the school to ensure that these demonstrations do not disrupt the educational process and take an abusive turn.
“There is a fine line between expressing your beliefs and abuse,” student Mary Eid said during the discussion at Fairweather’s class. “This was abuse and the school should install a zero tolerance policy, even if that means we have to become a closed campus.”
Dean of Students Joey Greenwell weighed in on the issue and offered advice to students feeling under attack by such groups.
“We want students to be educated about the law and also to ensure they themselves do not cross it,” Greenwell said. “We try to inform students how to protect themselves, including not allowing such speech to provoke them to where they make bad decisions,” he said.
Greenwell stressed that activities such as the ones that unfolded on Thursday, while not reflecting the university’s point of view, are to be expected on campus and fall under the First Amendment rights of freedom of expression. He said that the university monitors such events so as to ensure that student’s rights are not violated and views this as an opportunity for dialogue.
“Causing an emotional response may be what the speaker is attempting to achieve,” Greenwell said.