Preaching man causes chaos on campus

A man interrupted student displays last Wednesday, and a crowd gathered around him as he preached on pornography, homosexuality and other “sins.”

By Kaylee Kean

“I am here among a cesspool of sin.”

That is what one man said from atop his small plastic stool last Wednesday as he gripped his Bible and looked down at the students gathered around. He had been discussing pornog­raphy, sex, abortion, homosexuality and other topics on the lawn outside of the Oakland Center for hours, and a sizable crowd had formed beneath him as he told them they would be going to hell.

The words “My body, my choice” popped out from colored signs, phone cameras hovered along the edges of the mob, and the buzz of shouting and ar­guing could be heard from each edge of the lawn as the man yelled and students responded by debating with him or each other.

Rewind/what happened

Before the man showed up, students had already claimed the area, planning for a completely different turn of events.

Those students, members of the Stu­dents for Life at Oakland, were handing out rape whistles, counseling materials and other resources as part of their We Care Project, dedicated to raising awareness on sexual assault on college campuses.

The project was meant for “using that conversation to bring up the issue of rape and abortion,” according to Christina Lo Piccolo, junior and vice president of the organization.

At 10:30 a.m., Lo Piccolo and other par­ticipants set up six large displays with a step-by-step explanation of her group’s beliefs on rape and how to deal with a child conceived through it.

The group always tries to invite the op­posing side to come take a stand when it sets up something such as this, Lo Pic­colo said, so the protestors were neither a surprise nor a problem. It was the first time Students For Life had tried the We Care Project, Lo Piccolo said, and she had actually hoped it would generate conver­sation on the divisive issue of conception from rape.

It worked at first. Lo Piccolo and stu­dents were having great debates and conversations until the man appeared. Students left immediately, not wanting to be around the negativity.

Lo Piccolo said the man ignored her re­peated attempts to ask him to leave.

She asked a member of the Center for Student Activities to speak with him since they had reserved the lawn space and he hadn’t, and while he did step down from the stool for a while after being spoken to, he didn’t leave.

The We Care display remained until 1:30 p.m., and long before then the man had become the center of focus. This caused concern within the group, which didn’t want to be affiliated with the man.

“Our group is not a religious group on campus, or even a political group on campus,” Lo Piccolo said. “We don’t think (abortion) is a religious issue, we don’t think it’s a political issue — we think it’s a human rights issue.”

Right to free speech?

“He just wanted to spout whatever the heck he wanted to say, or at least that’s the impression I got,” said junior Benja­min Orjada. “There was no structure to his speech … He was the most hyper-con­servative reactionary.”

Orjada, who stopped by around 2:15 p.m., said he watched, sparred with the man for close to 45 min­utes that day. The man would quote the Bible, and Orjada said he and other stu­dents were angry at the man’s misinter­pretations.

“He said, ‘Mary is just a woman, she doesn’t matter,’ Orjada said. “He had so many views that are laughably bad and was insulting the people.”

Lt. Nicole Thompson of the Oakland University Police Department said she could not release the man’s name but said he is not an Oakland student and has been to campus before.

“We did respond to a call over there,” Thompson said of Wednesday. “Noth­ing was done because he was not violat­ing any laws; he was expressing his free speech rights.”

“It’s free speech, anyone should be al­lowed to speak to the students,” Halim Michael Sheena Jr. commented on The Oakland Post’s Facebook page on a post about the preaching man. “However there needs to be some kind of rules of conduct. This man was yelling at us all telling us we were going to Hell. He would pick on you if you were walking by.”

“More power to the crazy man,” Doug Hufnagel wrote. “He has every right to do that, and you have every right to ignore him.”

Lo Piccolo said while she respects the man’s right to free speech, he had ruined her group’s efforts and the conversations they were generating.

“We were upset because we had put a lot of time, energy and a lot of money into putting this project together and then he kind of sabotaged it at some points,” Lo Piccolo said. “It was very hateful and condemning and we do not support that in any way. We’re not here to condemn people for the decisions that they make, we’re here to help people and support them through it.”

“I respect his ability to be there, free­dom of speech, totally,” Orjada said. “Freedom to be an idiot also.”

The Oakland Post was unable to speak with the man himself, and he has not made himself known since Wednesday for comment.

To read more comments on this man and his right to free speech on campus, visit https://www.facebook.com/theoak-post/posts/10154762012940217.