The Preacher Incident


I have grown up around Gary Catell, Penn State’s famous Willard Preacher. I have seen him stand out in below freezing temperatures, giving talks that range from Biblical stories to modern day Christian views on purity. I have also grown up in an agnostic household. I have spent a majority of my life questioning the presence of God and taking a broad look at religion. I do not agree with a lot of Christian views. But I also don’t agree with intolerance. After seeing the video of Dr. Errol Henderson, a political science professor at Penn State, scream at the Willard Preacher in reaction to his speech against pre-marital sex, I was shocked and appalled. What Henderson exhibited towards the Willard Preacher was intolerance. The professor claimed that all Catell was good for was “badgering students,” and that because he was not a student he should leave the premises.

This logic is shallow and clearly spit out in a fit of rage. The squirrels on campus aren’t students either; should we make them all disappear too? Catell’s views are extreme, and I admit that I only heard a minimal amount of his “sex at Penn State” speech. It is going too far to talk about the student’s sex lives and be “so pre-occupied with the number of virgins on campus”; I condone setting forth the message that one’s sex life is one’s own business. I do not, however, condone conveying this message by screaming in someone’s face.

Henderson relied on the claim that we are all adults here and that Catell has no right to step in as a parental figure. Yet as far as I’ve heard, he hasn’t pointed at any individual student, said, “you, come here and tell me about your sex life.” He makes vast generalizations, yes, but at least they are generalizations that we can walk away from.

As adults, we are constantly going to be bombarded by opposing views. We cannot always bask in a liberal bubble–as much as I would like to, seeing as I lean so far left I can’t even see any elephants. As adults, we will hear contradicting arguments. But as adults, we can also be expected not to be readily convinced by one measly speech. We should be not only allowed, but expected to make our own informed decisions.

I walk past the Willard building every day; I hear the Willard Preacher accuse those who don’t go to church as sinners, yet I am not bothered by his presence, nor do I become thwarted by his views. As long as Catell doesn’t cross the line and ask me about my own sex life, I realize I have a choice in hanging around Willard and engaging in a debate with him, or leaving. We always have the choice to leave. I view the preacher’s words as an advertisement in the middle of a televsion show. My original purpose may be to watch, say, 30 Rock, but come time for commercial break, Mitt Romney talks about why Obama sucks, and that his binders full of women would agree (why Mitt Romney would even think to put his ads on 30 Rock is beyond me, but just go with me here). My intent was not to watch Mitt Romney, but just because I am subjected to his words does not mean I will leap up and vote Republican. I can turn away and wait for the show to come back on.

If Catell were to walk into a classroom and force his opinions down our throats, that would be a scenario that would require an immediate call to action. But as an American, Catell has freedom of speech. He is in a public space. It is our own independent decision to sit there and listen to him. Perhaps we don’t have “freedom to be badgered,” but Catell is not badgering us. He is openly preaching, but that does not equate to bothering students. Henderson raises some important points, but if his ultimate goal is to get Catell to leave the premises, making a scene and throwing accusations at the preacher is not the way to achieve such a goal.

As long as we are given the option to listen or walk away from the Willard Preacher, why should we let his words impact us? We should not be advocates of intolerance or narrow-mindedness, yet seeing Catell as purely a bother is just as narrow minded as saying we’re all going to Hell. I’ve seen students engage in well thought-out debate because of the Willard Preacher. College is meant to teach us to think critically and to be open to all viewpoints. We can certainly question certain modes of thought, but to reprimand a person for non-violently expressing his own views is just another version of intolerance. Everyone deserves their constitutional rights, everyone deserves respect. And if we don’t like what a certain individual is saying, we have the option to walk away.


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  1. If you lean SO FAR left, then the last thing you should feel is appalled by what DOCTOR Henderson said. First amendment rights don’t protect hate speech and if you bothered to listen, rather than simply “walk away,” you would know how hateful that man who stands outside of Willard is.

    • Your first amendment rights do protect hate speech – it is his right to be hateful as long as he doesn’t incite violence or a riot.

      You do not have the right, not to be offended.

      I think the Willard preacher is crazy but like most religious leaders, he isn’t worth taking seriously.

    • Yup, Ryan, rkel is right, the First Amendment rights protect all speech, but especially religious and political speech. When we start down the slippery slope of declaring some speech as “hateful” we are faced with some very tough decisions. Why? Because declaring some speech as “hateful” while other is not is applying a moral code, your moral code, to what others say and do. Is that what you want? Speech limited by the application of a moral code? Would it be alright if it was the Preacher’s code?

      • If I believe that stealing is okay, should that be allowed? I mean, otherwise, you’re forcing your moral code of not stealing on me.

        Personally, as a female student on campus, I find the preacher’s harassment unacceptable and hostile. It creates a poor environment on-campus. I don’t have a problem with him talking about his religious or political views, but I have a serious problem with him pointing out female students and calling them sluts and whores.

          • And maybe the Constitution doesn’t fit into my moral code? You’re going in circles here. Every law we have is by someone’s moral code, and judging by how often our country fights over the constitution, I’m guessing that not everyone has the same moral code. So, yes, some people won’t like it when I say that I don’t think people should be able to shout things like slut, whore, the n-word, etc. without consequence– especially at a University, a setting defined by the attainment of education and the eradication of ignorance.

  2. This really has nothing to do with the First Amendment. No one is trying to make a law preventing the preacher from yelling into crowds of people. The First amendment does not protect the preacher from an opposing viewpoint being expressed in his direction

    • You should pay closer attention to the article. At no point does she say that one persons speech is protected and the other is not. Some believe that Gary’s speech is not protected and she was rebutting that.

  3. Dr. Henderson wanted to make the point that, perhaps the preacher’s message would resonate more in another area. He seemed less intolerant of the preacher’s message and more intolerant of the space in which he sends that message.

  4. After discussing this in my CAS class today, I learned that not only does this man speak and project his beliefs outside of Willard, he also frequently insults and verbally harasses female students. I have heard of instances where he has accused girls coming from breakfast that they are committing a walk of shame, and that he’s been blunt enough to call out girls who were not dressed appropriately to his standards by calling them “whores.”

    Though I am a firm believer in the first amendment and our university does have “free speech zones” I feel that his actions, and by that I mean his derogatory remarks, are inexcusable. If he wishes to proclaim his debates and have spirited debates and discussions with students who wish to engage with him, that is fine. However, his remarks towards students, especially girls, and constant involvement in our sex lives is extremely irritating.

    As a professor who is here to help students like me and all of us here, I can see why Dr. Henderson did what he did. I commend him for it. He expressed his feelings such as the Willard Preacher did his. However, when Dr. Henderson expressed his beliefs he confronted the man, while, even when Henderson was in his face, the preacher still attacked the morales and character of the Penn State student body.

    • If you are going to stand up for free speech, you also have to stand up for what you feel is repugnant.

      If he isn’t inciting violence or a riot – insults are free speech as long as he isn’t disturbing the peace or being disorderly, which is always a judgement call from law enforcement.

      The Willard preacher is in bad taste, but that should be protected.

      • I do believe in free speech, however, I do feel that because this is a university there should be some guidelines. One could in fact argue that insults that he throws around could entice violent acts. I know if I was walking to class with a female friend and I heard a remark such as that, I, just like any other man, would be enraged by this. We can both agree that he is in bad taste, however we disagree on the fact that he should be protected. Just because the man has been doing this for years, and is in fact not the first preacher on campus, does not give him the right to act as he pleases. There is a difference between stating beliefs, the behavior I was referring to when I “stood up for free speech”, and some of the derogatory remarks he makes.

      • I do believe in free speech. However, because this is a university, there should be guidelines for these types of issues on campus. I should clarify further. When I stated that I believe in freedom of speech I was referring to his religious beliefs on campus. I do not however feel he should have the right to speak in a derogatory manner towards students, because I do feel that those remarks could, and most likely will eventually, entice violent acts. For example, if I were walking with a female friend and he were to make such remarks that I previously noted, I, just as any man, would be outraged. We do agree that he is in bad taste however, I cannot agree that he should be protected. He should be protected to a certain extent, his right to speak of his religion and have discussions with students regarding that, but does not have the right to carry on with such remarks.

        I know that he is almost a staple at this school. Some say he, or a version of him, have graced this campus longer than most of the faculty currently working here. However, this doesn’t make it right. This doesn’t mean he should be protected.

        • Just because it might “entice violent acts” does not make what he is saying any less allowed/legal in this forum or any other. Did you know that it is legal to burn a flag? If you did that in the south, you would surely get shot, yet it is still protected as symbolic speech. Why? Because how would you react if you saw on CNN that a protester in Tiananmen square was arrested treason or whatever charge for burning a Chinese flag? You would be outraged. You would also hopefully understand why it is an important expression to protect.

          • It’s not a question on legality for me. I have a pretty decent grasp on what falls under freedom of speech. However, he isn’t outside of a bar speaking to drunk students, he’s on a college campus calling out girls for what they’re wearing! I don’t think Nick was saying it’s illegal. He’s saying that if you are going to stand outside of a classroom building on school grounds, there should be some guidelines to what you do and don’t say.

          • Morally, not legally. I agree. It would be nice if he was nice, but then no one would listen. That’s why he does it.

          • I don’t see this as a right/wrong legal/not legal issue. We aren’t talking about a man speaking just anywhere. We are talking about him speaking at a university. I want to make it clear that when I say he shouldn’t be allowed to speak in the manner he does, I’m not referring to his religious beliefs. I am strictly talking about his inappropriate remarks towards students. I’m just stating that this issue should be discussed and not left alone because this is the way it’s always been.

          • If you aren’t willing to support speech that you find offensive – then you don’t believe in free speech

    • I’m in agreement here. At times I’ve walked past and heard him spouting out garbage about “whores” and “fags” and “sluts.” Personally, it’s rather offensive. But more offensive, is if one of us – as an individual student – went out and started rambling about atheism and how we believe it’s the best idea of all time, we would be ridiculed and harassed by other students.

      I think after Galileo, the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Dark Ages, the score is in favor of people who actually think for themselves rather than something written in a book by sexist and racist men thousands of years ago.

  5. Dr. Henderson is allowed to tell the preacher to leave just as much as the preacher is allowed to stand there and continue to preach. You can disagree with what either is saying but don’t try and say one is more allowed to say what they want than the other.

    • That’s not what she is saying. Of course she would believe that they both have a right to free speech. She means the professor’s half of the “debate” served to do nothing but rile up the crowd. Yes, both deserve to voice their opinions, but only one is doing so in a constructive manner. The Professor was speaking as though he was expecting Gary to reply: “Oh no he didn’t!” snap his fingers and then make a momma joke. I say that only to emphasize the fact that he was being confrontational in an over-the-top way.

      However, I think we can blame some of that on the nerves of the professor. I bet Errol wishes he could take all he said and have an intelligent discussion. To win with logic, not with the mob cheering. The high road. That’s what they’re both trying to foster in those that listen to them. Yet, that’s not what happens.

      • Eric, that is absolutely the message I was trying to get across! Thank you so much for understanding and realizing that I wasn’t trying to say anyone was in the right in this instance.

  6. This is rediculous, just because you think what the professor did was “a little too harsh” doesn’t mean he is in the wrong. You are purely naive and stubborn not to believe that Mr. Catell constantly badgers students. I’m appalled by how you took the time to try and defend someone who doesn’t need or want defending. “This logic is shallow and clearly spit out in a fit of rage. The squirrels on campus aren’t students either; should we make them all disappear too?” You compare what Dr. Henderson said about Mr. Catell to the squirrels on campus, and his logic is flawed? Give me a break.

  7. It’s pretty amazing to me that someone who is in a position of power at Penn State (Prof. Henderson) has decided to try to use his position to silence an unpopular opinion. Football coaches (well at least one) have been fired for less, with a lack of any evidence that it happened. And the fact that he tried to stop someone from using his First Amendment rights suggesting that it was not an appropriate forum is even worse and ignorant.

    Section IV of Policy AD47 in the Penn State Policy Manual states, “As members of the community, professors have the rights and obligations of all citizens. They measure the urgency of these obligations in the light of their responsibilities to their respective subjects, to their students, to their profession, and to their institution. When they speak or act as private persons they avoid creating the impression that they speak or act for their respective colleges or the University. As citizens engaged in a profession that depends upon freedom for its health and integrity, professors have an articular obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry and to further public understanding of academic freedom.”

    Whoops. Penn State really has no option BUT to review this– I hope they don’t fire the professor, but if they do nothing it’s hypocritical at best. He should at least face internal review and maybe be placed on probation. Then again, that would require the Board of Trustees to follow their own rules and do something smart so I know it’s not going to happen. Either way, this is not the time for Penn State professors to start trying to silence people on campus.

    • You’re kidding, right? He didn’t bring the police or force tape over the guy’s mouth. He yelled, sure, but guess what? He’s allowed to yell just as much as the preacher is apparently to shout about the “sluts” on-campus. He was expressing the opinion that the preacher should shut up…an opinion that is covered by the First Amendment.

      • Thank
        God someone stood up to that idiot which PSU should permanently SHUT
        UP..He is the most obnoxious excuse for a human being that I have ever
        seen..And his message is far from any Christian like behavior I have
        observed except for the Westboro Baptists or those groups that spout
        anti gay sentiment. He is rude, crude and intolerant and I wish he
        would go…Kudos to Dr. Henderson.

        • He serves a purpose at Penn state, just like you, Ms. Leddy. His is less defined, yet he adds to the color of the campus no less. Irrespective of whether or not his arguments make sense, he challenges students to look introspectively and to reflect on the decisions they made. Yes, we are all adults, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to improve ourselves as humans. That’s probably all Gary wants. He might want it in a different way than others, but his platform is no less founded.

          • I wonder if you would be so understanding of the preacher’s gospel’s if he targeted males as much as he does females. His “teachings” are often about sinners, yes, but he rarely singles out males as he does females. This does not add “color”.

          • I do not see how the WP helps us as humans..I find his speech to be demoralizing, hateful and degrading…I do not deserve to be called a whore nor does anyone else..It is not his position to judge..Who does he think he is ..God..or something.? His “colorful” speech is just wrong in my opinion…Degrading women, gays or other “evil” members of society should not be tolerated on this campus..I believe in freedom of speech but not hate speech which is how I characterize his words. What purpose does he serve, why does he do this day after day?

  8. Just to add, the professor was not screaming at him he even states in the video “this is my lecture voice”. I find the preacher’s presence an unnecessary annoyance. I am even more perturbed to find out that the preacher is PAID money to stand there. If he chose to do that of his own accord and suffer those conditions I would have some more respect for him but he is PAID. Also his derogatory remarks give cause for reasoning that the preacher does affect the students more than is necessary.

  9. As a jewish student here at Penn State much of what the Willard preacher says severely offends me. As a person paying, without financial aid, 40,000 dollars a year to be here I would appreciate if they would remove him, the same way that they would remove me if I would stand there offending people and making derogatory comments. He has called me a whore who is doing the walk of shame, when I am simply meeting someone for breakfast at west. He came up one day and asked me how I felt about christianity and when I responded that I was Jewish he told me i was going to hell. If that is not hate speech I do not know what is. If he wants to help people create a booth downtown or go somewhere that we as students are not FORCED to see him everyday while we are simply trying to get our educations that we are paying top dollar for.

  10. I think you should have learned more about the preacher before you published this article. During my years there he consistently singled out and insulted individuals who didn’t agree or questioned his views. He works for a religious organization and his only purpose there is to recruit students to this church. Who do you think pays his bills? How do you think he affords to stand there all day spewing his hatred? He does not belong on campus. He challenges people to argue with him, that’s why he says such offensive things as you walk by.

  11. Dr. Henderson exercised his own right to free speech. Free speech does *not* mean you are free to say whatever you want with no repercussions. Others, such as Dr. Henderson, are just as free to tell you off. Actually, I wish more people would stand up to the Preacher and tell them just what they think.

  12. A lot of what Gary says is really interesting and even if you disagree its worth listening to. He usually backs up a lot of his arguments with some evidence, although you can debate how valid it is.

    That said, I usually turn around and ignore him whenever he talks about sex & sexuality. While some of what he says is probably true, he stereotypes to the extreme and sometimes is kinda insulting.

    The main reason I bash his sex talks is that he has no evidence or proof to back his opinions. If you think premarital sex is awful fine, then explain why and how it is detrimental with solid scientific proof. Using “god” as your reasoning is very weak. I’m catholic, but I can certainly respect and understand the views on sexuality from Islam to Hinduism to Judaism.

    Basically, Gary needs to put some proof in his sex talks and to lighten up on the stereotypes and the name calling. Its ok to talk about the prevalence of sexual activity on college campuses and how maybe that is good or bad, its not ok to label people a slut, whore, fag, etc, etc.

  13. Does anyone actually listen to the Willard Preacher? He does not use the word whore, slut or the N-word. He talks in generalizations and not to specific persons unless they are engaged in debate. The things people imagine he says is so much more offensive than what he actually does say!

  14. I am 1982 PSU grad and I recall with great glee the amount of times the Willard Preacher (probably not the same Preacher?) called us “whores” and we cheered!! He shouted to the guys labeling them “whoremongers” and they laughed and clapped! I suggest that humor is the best way to deal with the situation. Trust me, what this man is doing/saying is NOT what Jesus would do or say.