The line between free speech and hate speech became a little blurry for some students this week at Fort Lewis College when a “campus preacher” proselytized about specific groups, including homosexuals.
Keith Darrell with the Whitefield Fellowship in Bellbrook, Ohio, said he visits campuses across the country to preach the Bible. He set up shop about noon to 5 p.m. Monday in front of the library and the College Union at FLC, where he shared his belief that gay people are sinners, among other self-held convictions.
“If you ask me if homosexuality is a sin, yes, it’s a sin,” Darrell said Tuesday during a phone interview. “Lying is a sin, adultery is a sin, sex outside marriage is a sin.”
Despite the doom and gloom talk, Darrell said he was there to preach the grace of God, and that God gives mercy to sinners. “I’m not out there to preach hell. I’m out there to preach redemption,” he said.
Several dozen students surrounded Darrell and inched ever closer as he gave his spiel.
Darrell stood behind a chair engaging with students when sophomore Randy Banks allegedly poured coffee on the proselytizer’s Bible, which lay on the chair, according to witnesses.
Banks, whose legal name is Randall Hughes, 20, ran away with police in pursuit.
He was arrested on suspicion of malicious injury to property, obstructing a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, according to jail records.
About 50 students held a rally Tuesday in support of Banks, Native American students, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The rally was held to advocate for the campus to be a “safe space,” they said.
Banks, who is free on $500 bail, led a few protest chants and a march around campus. He said he wants to create a “safe space” on campus and draw a distinct line between hate speech and freedom of speech.
Someone in attendance asked about the symbolism of pouring coffee on the Bible, to which he replied: “What do you think it is? For now, I’m going to say I’m against hate because I love my people so much, and I love the community and I want to create a good space for us.”
Sidney Kabotie, a student who spoke at the rally, said students must recognize they fuel people’s hate by giving them attention and engaging with them.
“We all have to recognize how much power we really give these people to be hateful in our presence, and the moment that you choose to acknowledge them is the moment that they win,” he said.
Darrell was not invited to speak on campus, but as a public institution, it is a place where public discourse can occur – “even discourse with which we disagree,” said FLC spokesman Mitch Davis.
“Becoming an engaged citizen means learning to deal with those who disagree with us, even those whose rhetoric we find disturbing or extreme,” he wrote in an email to the Herald.
Darrell was preaching hate, not God, said Logahn Ezman, a student who helped promote the rally. He targeted the LGBT community, saying gay people are going to hell, she said.
“Those groups should not be targeted like that,” she said.
She added: “Most of what we’re trying to do with that safe space is create an area where people feel loved and welcomed. We just weren’t OK with the event that happened with that preacher.”
Darrell said he started visiting college campuses in 2000, took time off to join the “financial world,” but returned to proselytizing full time in 2010.
Darrell said students often skew his message to one of “God hates gays,” but he’s never said “God hates gays.” He does say “God views gays as sinners,” he said.
He takes his Christian message to college campuses where there is supposed to be a free exchange of ideas, he said.
But in reality, they’ve become a “pseudo-orthodoxy of the day,” and if people don’t represent those ideas, they’re not welcome. “Safe spaces” are created when campuses don’t accept ideas different than the orthodoxy, he said.
Darrell said he has had several Bibles stolen or damaged at college campuses. He has been punched four times, including the first time in September 2012 at Fort Lewis College.
“It’s somewhat regular that my Bible gets stolen,” he said. “You’re kind of prepared on a somewhat regular basis to have your Bible either go missing or it’s been set on fire before.”