Silence is golden: Dealing with abusers of First Amendment rights

By Matt DeRosa

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.”

You have probably heard these words before. They often get debated when somebody says something that another person finds offensive.

But in case you are still in the dark as to the purpose or origin of these words, I will inform you. These are the words of the First Amendment to the United States Bill of Rights.

In other words, they are your right to free speech. Your right to say anything you want even if it is racist, sexist, discriminatory, illogical, vulgar or just an utterly pointless set of words strung together (think: drunken karaoke).

The reason I am taking a moment to remind everyone of their First Amendment right to free speech comes as a result of all the uproar from the recent visit of Michael and Tamika Venyah. The problem that has always plagued free speech is that what one person deems perfectly normal message of guidance to be shouted from the mountain tops (or in this case, the main Quad) sometimes doesn’t seem appropriate to someone else. To them it is taken as little more than religious diatribe. Thus they feel that the person should not be saying these things because they are offensive to those around listening to them.

What concerns me is people feeling that because the Venyah’s were saying such outrageous atrocities about other people and condemning them to hell, they should not have been spreading their Gospel at all. It scares me when a few bad apples start rallying people against one of the founding rights of this country. You have every right to go out onto the Quad and preach your own interpretation of Christ’s message. Don’t fight back by limiting his right to free speech; go out and exercise your own.

Regardless of their message, some crazies out on the Quad preaching does not scare me in the least. I am not at all affected by a religious quack. I agree with freshman in LAS, David Simison, who said that they were simply using the parts of the Bible they saw fit for their message.

Furthermore, I think when people rely on shock value to get their message across, it shows that they have little faith in people receiving their words in a normal manner. Thus they have to fall back on an in-your-face approach because they know they don’t have enough well thought out religious guidance for people to hear them take time to listen to them.

Sadly people on the Quad last week did not realize that the best way to deal with someone such as this is simply to ignore them. As The Daily Illini reported, “more than 60 students crowded around Venyah, some enraged, some incredulous, some mocking and others troubled.”

Students only fueled the fire by stopping what they were doing to respond in any way to what was said to them. If people would not have paid the Venyah’s any attention, they probably would not have returned for the second day. And if they had, they could have been met with the same practice of turning a deaf ear to their Gospel.

The only way to render a preacher powerless is to take away their pulpit. But no, students stuck around, they listened, they got angry and thought they were accomplishing something by making fun or preaching back. By doing anything to respond to this couple, they were still feeding his ego.

As his wife said, “They crucified Christ — why should we expect anything less?” They wanted students to get angry and what’s more they really wanted the students to attack. You have to understand that they win (in their own little Ba`al heads) if they get martyred for their cause.