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Commentary: Peace by Action, Not by Words

By Max Binkley

IMC Student

To most college students, fundamental rights of free speech and assembly are understood as far back as middle school civic classes.

It’s understood and accepted as long as you don’t shout “Fire!” in a movie theater or use inciting language, you are protected to say and do as you please in public space. The University of Mississippi, being a publicly funded university, is obligated to the same responsibility to uphold and protect these rights of assembly and speech.

How far and how extreme do these messages need to be in order to create incitement or disruption to students? This idea was put to the test recently at the Ole Miss Student Union plaza.

Photo by Max Binkley

Around 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 6, representatives of the online group “Bible-Evangalism.com” assembled in the union plaza to preach and assemble students with signs and flyers that showed a list of religious crimes like “WARNING TO ALL… GOD’S JUDGMENT IS COMING!” with a list of perceived religious crimes like being a liar, Catholic, Muslim, suicidal, and feminist.

Photo by Max Binkley

This assembly of religious evangelists of about 10 individuals was met by a much larger anti-protest group of students and bystanders who argued with and confronted the evangelists.

An official of the University Police Department at the scene told a group of students that he had received reports of disruption, but he believed no crimes had been committed and the evangelists were protected in their assembly.

Photo by Max Binkley

The Gertrude C. Ford Student Union’s official website states: “Third-parties not otherwise sponsored by a student or RSO who seek to plan an event on public University property, should refer to the policy on third party free expression and use of space. Certain areas of University property are not open for general public use. The University maintains a position of neutrality as it relates to third-party free speech. A third party’s presence on University property does not mean that the University either endorses, sponsors or approves of the third party’s speech. A third party does not speak for or on behalf of the University, nor does a third-party’s access to or presence on University property imply a relationship or association with the University.”

So what does this mean for the average student?

Unless a protester restricts your access to movement, says something to incite disruption or violence or talks in an unprotected space on campus, they’re entitled to show you and tell you whatever they want. If you ever feel unsafe or disagree with what is said, it’s best to avoid the situation altogether.

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