A poster distributed by Kent State University’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI) advertised one of the school’s discussion groups on the topic, “Free speech or hate speech?” Featured on the poster was the phrase, “You need Jesus.”
The advertisement was for KENTtalks, which occur regularly on campus and offers students a chance for “civil discourse” and “a safe place” to discuss topics such as “Let’s Talk Trump,” “Microaggressions,” and “Gender, Sexuality, and Faith.” One of the last KENTtalks was on free speech versus hate speech and explored if people have the “right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.” However, the poster prompted some students of Christian faith to wonder why an evangelical phrase was put next to the provocative phrases, “No more gays,” “Women need to serve their man,” and “Build a wall.”
The moderator of the event, Dean of KSU’s College of Communication and Information Professor Amy Reynolds, told The College Fix that CSI was involved in creating the advertising for the event and added, “I’m not sure what the process is/was.” The Fix never received responses from the students of CSI who were directly involved.
At least one student is asking for an apology for the poster.
“The university should apologize because it appears to be targeted toward one political and religious side,” said the president of Campus Ministry International, Jared Small. “They could have included hate speech against president Trump or hate speech against Christians as examples. In my opinion, free speech protects hate speech to an extent. However, the university appears to show a bias against Christians and conservatives.”
But Jacob Brown, the president of the Catholic Student Association, believes no apology is necessary.
“Do I think it constitutes hate speech? No. Should the university apologize? No,” Brown said in an e-mail to The Fix.
Brown believes the phrase was chosen because of the “twice or so each year” that fire and brimstone preachers descend on campus. The Fix quotes more of his e-mail:
“Nobody wants to be told ‘You’re going to hell,’” Brown said. “As a leader of a religious student organization, I put my face in my palm every time I see this [religious] protest,” which echoes the “zealousness” of Jesus in challenging the money changers in the temple but also comes across as “tasteless and without empathy.”
Brown urged students to understand the intentions of the protesting preachers, even if their message delivery is controversial. “They share this with you because they believe it is in your best interest,” he said. “I feel few students stop to consider this perspective.”
Christian students should also welcome the challenge of responding to those who accuse them of hate speech, because “a person’s convictions are useless in a vacuum,” Brown continued. “Sharing your ideas with those who agree with you isn’t testing validity, it’s just increasing popularity. … Embrace the trial by fire.”
Clearly, the lack of response from the CSI and the students involved in making the poster speaks volumes, along with the phrases chosen, or better, not chosen. As The Fix noted, a few years ago, an associate professor of history at Kent State shouted, “Death to Israel” during the speech of a Muslim Israeli diplomat. That phrase is notably absent from the ad. Wonder why?