Free speech hero: the raving campus street preacher

Even though universities take a lot of heat for their growing tendency to censor legally protected speech, there’s one free speech fixture that still seems to be going strong: the raving, half homeless-looking, evangelical street preacher. If you haven’t been on a campus in a while, it’s just like you remember. There are many of them, and they are sometimes women, but I think reducing it down to a single representative man will get the point across just fine. As readers of this blog probably know, I agree with basically none of what this man ever says. I have this in common with most of his target audience, I think.

What he says, especially about sexuality—yesterday I walked past one raving about “homos”—is much more frank than what you normally hear from others, and less and less palatable over time to college students. Yet he always has a crowd around him, and the crowd always seems to know the proper response is either to ignore him or to laugh and heckle, not to get upset.

I know the problem of the offensive but unsanctioned street preacher is not the same as (potentially?) offensive agents who either implicitly or explicitly have the university’s sanction, whether instructors, guest speakers, or fellow students. But the value of college is not just in the officially sanctioned activities. This guy does a great service on campus. What is the danger of ideas, again? People might believe them? It’s good to have a constant fixture on campuses with very unpopular ideas who amuses rather than harms. The raving campus street preacher shows people can be exposed to disagreeable ideas without being transformed by them.

I hope he isn’t banned at Yale.


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