November 26, 2007

Know Them By Their Deeds: Campus Evangelicals Go Too Far

You are a 22-year-old conservatively-dressed female college student, strolling across campus on your way to class. Suddenly, a street preacher who has harassed you previously charges you, cocking his fist, and swinging it to stop inches from your face. He then calls you a whore.

Such is the case described by Amy Mariani in The Oracle, the University of South Florida's school paper. The student described in this incident has filed assault charges against preacher, John M. Kranert, a regular fixture on campus.

As vile as this incident sounds, it appears to be nothing new for Kranert.
She [the student] said Kranert demeaned her on prior occasions by saying, "I can tell you've been with every man on campus by the way you stand," and asking if she got her name from Black Entertainment Television because of her caramel complexion. He didn't know her name, nor did he ask, suggesting the question was purely racist at its roots, according to the Oracle.
Is Kranert merely exercising his right to free speech or to practice his religion, or has he gone too far? Mariani, herself a Christian, notes that Kranert and other campus evangelists have the right to spread their message (i.e., spout their Christian nonsense) in public like anyone else. And yet, approaching someone in a physically threatening manner and hurling derogatory insults is something else entirely.
Yet when a street preacher - or anyone else - crosses the line and charges at someone, calling them unfounded and derogatory names, he has entered insidious speech territory. Insidious speech is intended to harm and is not protected by the First Amendment.
I suppose another relevant question is whether the University owes their students the right to learn in an environment free from harassment. It would seem to me that they probably do. And yet, Mariani has personally observed this behavior from Kranert on multiple occasions.
I've seen him tell a Hindi student that she is going to hell because she worships a fake god. I've seen him tell a woman to cover her cleavage before she tries to talk to him. I've seen him tell a black student that she isn't going to heaven because of the color of her skin. And he's told me, as I was defending the Hindi student, that he won't respect anyone who doesn't believe in his God.
Instead of implying that Kranert is not a real Christian, I wish Mariani could have simply recognized this for what it was - another Christian extremists run amok.

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