Evangelist, students debate

By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, February 18, 2005

The right of free speech came into question yesterday, as tension again mounted at the Alumni Plaza when students argued for the fourth consecutive day with a preaching evangelist who was making politically incorrect comments.

Jed Smock, a traveling evangelist and author of "Who Will Rise Up: A Call to Confrontational Evangelism," has been preaching to students by Heritage Hill for the last week. But the preacher said today will be his last day.

What began as a religious debate and question of free speech quickly turned into an afternoon entertainment session, attracting a crowd of about 150 people.

Some of Smock's comments included "a masturbator today is a homosexual tomorrow" and "God has a vagina for every homosexual." Smock also said the only thing Mexicans contribute to

society is burritos, and Jewish people are only good at making bagels and running banks.

Smock advised students against "fornicating outside of marriage," drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana or doing drugs, although Smock said he found God while doing LSD in college.

UA spokesman Paul Allvin said although preachers on campus used to be at Speaker's Corner, the location has since been removed because federal courts ruled open campuses can not dictate a location for public speakers.

However, Allvin pointed out while Smock has the right to speak at the Alumni Plaza, students also have the right to listen or leave.

Though most students disagreed with Smock's comments, they also felt it was Smock's right to be able to preach.

"This validates our First Amendment right to make asses of ourselves," said Tom Monaco, a computer science senior and member of the mock devotee group "Jed-Heads."

Smock said he thought their mock group was "cute."

"It becomes a social thing for them, and they like me despite themselves," Smock said.

While some students believed Smock was exercising his First Amendment rights, others thought he was taking his freedoms too far.

When asked whether he learns from his campus visits, Smock said he travels to campuses to teach rather than learn.

"Confrontational evangelism" is a term Smock said he coined and was a product of his 1960s upbringing in response to confrontational politics.

"You gotta make yourself heard," Smock said. "The radicals of the '60s made a platform out of being confrontational. I take the offensive, I'm not on the defensive."

John Shaw, a molecular and cellular biology sophomore, said Smock's comments were excessive and he should be stopped.

Deborah Frisch, an adjunct lecturer of psychology, told Smock to get his "sorry ass out of town now," and said since Smock had the right to preach, she had the right to share her feelings, too.

In response to Smock's comments, students shouted back, burned his book, sang "Kumbyah" and circled him on bikes. At one point, one student touched Smock with his hand and said, "I just peed on my hand."

Justin Almeleh, an aerospace engineering freshman, began smoking a hookah with friends in protest of Smock's comments.

University of Arizona Police Department officers came to the scene again yesterday in response to an assault call, but after escorting away students who got too close to Smock, left and did not file charges. Police were called earlier this week when allegations surfaced that Smock had pushed a woman, but no charges were filed.

Smock said in past years when visiting other campuses, students were not as hands-off as they are here.

"I had my ankle broken at the University of Wisconsin and my arm broken at Western Kentucky (University)," Smock said.

Melissa Ayres, an undeclared freshman, said Smock was entitled to his beliefs and thought students harassing back was wrong.

"Saying things like 'grow a dick' are not appropriate," Ayers said.

Other students worried Smock would give Christians on campus a bad reputation.

Coralie Bucher, a biology sophomore, said Smock completely misrepresents Christian beliefs and hopes non-Christians do not make incorrect assumptions about the religion.

The Jed-Heads started a group on www.thefacebook.com to show their devotion, called "People Who Were SAVED by Brother Jed." The group has more than 61 members and has since spawned imitation groups.

Smock will be preaching at Arizona State University next week.

"They're relatively more conservative, so it won't be so wild," Smock said.

- Anthony D. Ávila contributed to this report.