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about a year ago
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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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