North Texas Daily

Smatresk responds to street preachers

Smatresk responds to street preachers

November 25
12:20 2015

Julia Falcon | Staff Writer


As lawmakers and academics across the nation discuss First Amendment rights in light of the on-campus protests at Missouri and Yale, UNT continues with the same free speech dilemma that has raised eyebrows for years: the street preachers.

University presidents in America have stepped down at the demands of student protesters on matters of racial injustices on campus. In Denton, however, UNT president Neal Smatresk responded in an email to claims that one church group called some students discouraging names and used explicative language earlier in November.

“While I understand the rights of those preaching to express their opinions, I also believe this kind of diatribe to be hateful and hurtful,” Smatresk wrote. “I become especially concerned when it’s directed at members of our university family.”

The group that comes to campus regularly mainly hails from Heritage Grace Church in Frisco under the leadership of pastor Emilio Ramos, who has spoken about this issue with the North Texas Daily.

But the Heritage Grace crew is not affiliated with the preacher who allegedly prompted student backlash and moved Smatresk to send the community-wide email. Heritage Grace typically comes on Wednesdays; the preacher students say harassed them was on campus on a Tuesday.

“The preachers escalated their rhetorics and verbal attacks,” Smatresk said in an interview. “There were a number of crude comments suggesting that people kill themselves and calling people vulgar names. I can’t fathom their purpose for being on campus.”

The Free Speech and Public Assembly on Campus Grounds policy states: “Freedom of expression and public assembly are fundamental rights of all persons and are essential components of the education process. These activities promote debate and the sharing of ideas, which are the foundation of educational constitutions.”

Robert Reece, a prominent member of Heritage Grace Church, said he believes his ideas are consistent and fair, and he appreciates having the ability to have his voice heard.

“This [school] is the ground where minds are molded,” Reece said. “It is the modern-day marketplace of ideas, and all ideas should be allowed. I do not agree that something should be shut down because of a person’s negative response to it.”

Wally Oscar, who attends Heritage Grace, said he thinks it is important to have free speech on campus because anyone has the constitutional right to share their thoughts and opinions with each other.

“The founders of our countries obviously thought that free speech was important, so they added it to our constitution,” Oscar said. “I love coming to UNT because it is nice to talk to young people who are hoping to listen, and a lot of people need to hear the gospel.”

Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness also said free speech on campus is an important part of the educational process.

“Among UNT’s greatest assets is the collective diversity of thought, our willingness to respect and examine differing perceptions and viewpoints and our ability to engage in constructive dialogue in a civil manner,” McGuinness said. “Being exposed to different points of view and learning how to respect and examine those perceptions and viewpoints that may differ from your own while discussing the similarities and differences respectfully and constructively is a key part of the higher education process.”

Oscar said the other preacher groups that come to campus give him and his colleagues at Heritage Grace a bad perception.

“I know there are other groups who are hateful, and kids do attack,” Oscar said. “They are not Christian, and they try to stir people up just to hope someone will sue the school. One time, we had a beer can thrown at us, and the people who yell at us are usually running away or driving by.”

Although the university cannot banish the more outspoken preacher from the campus, Smatresk said in his email he hopes students will continue to be the supportive, caring and inclusive community they are.

“I suggest avoiding and ignoring the preachers when you pass them by,” Smatresk said. “I do not like them being on our campus, and I think they have twisted purposes for being here. They do not need the satisfaction of having an audience.”

Reece said he comes to UNT to spread the power of the gospel, and one time a student told him they felt like his preaching had saved them.

“The Bible tells us to go and proclaim the gospel to all nations,” Reece said. “There are some instances in the Bible where people are in the public square proclaiming the message of sins. There is power in the gospel, and it only makes sense to get it out as much as possible.”

Similarly to Smatresk, McGuinness hopes students don’t engage in negative exchanges.

“Our university has a long tradition of having many free speech events of varying types, and we are a large, diverse community full of varying points of view,” McGuinness said. “Not everyone is going to agree with everything all of the time, but we hope that everyone can engage in civil discussion.”

This preacher would normally bring a few signs, a Bible and his thoughts to campus, and Smatresk said he is worried about the well being of the students.

“My concerns about these people coming to our campus are either students having a laugh and being entertained,” Smatresk said. “There are also people who are very sensitive to the things they say and could take them very seriously.”

Featured Image: Heritage Grace Community Church Deacon Rob Reece preaches his beliefs to students passing by the Business Leadership Building on Wednesday. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

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