Volume 93, Issue 45

Thursday, November 18, 1999


Editorial Board 1999-2000

Not on our lawn

Editorial cartoon

Not on our lawn

Does free speech really exist on the campus of our hallowed university?

Yesterday morning Ed Wellein, an American pastor from Ohio, who is training to be a "campus preacher" decided to express his religious beliefs and opinions, quite loudly, on the Concrete Beach. He proclaimed, among other things, that people of the Jewish and Muslim faith were going to hell and sex outside of marriage is a sin. He also referred to many women on this campus as whores and prostitutes.

Not surprisingly, these views angered a large number of people. A group began to convene around him, some arguing with the pastor, others just observing the spectacle. Soon, after a few complaints had been made to the police, the pastor was removed from campus by our loyal boys in blue.

The obvious argument could be made that the removal of the pastor violated his freedom of speech. Complaints were made after his ejection, which expressed disappointment that someone, in a place which is supposed to encourage higher learning and free thought, could not speak freely.

However, free speech has to be taken in context.

First of all, the university is not public property, it's private. While different avenues of thought should be encouraged, the University Community Centre is supposed to be a neutral place on campus where all students can feel welcome, respected and not worry about facing someone overtly challenging something as personal as faith. If the students feel this goal is being sufficiently compromised, they have every right voice their concerns to police who can then exert their authority and remove the accused.

This kind of philosophy and practice existed on campus long before the self-proclaimed "Bible thumper" stirred up the Concrete Beach. While anyone is allowed to stand up in class and freely speak their views, freedom of speech as a blanket philosophy has never existed at Western.

The removal of the pastor was just a more overt example of how views are deemed tolerable and intolerable on this campus. The USC, administration and the police, all forms of authority on campus, play a part in determining which opinions can or cannot be expressed on Western property.

To speak in the USC you must rent space and time to do so. To hang a poster on campus you must have it approved by the poster patrol. Speakers at Alumni Hall, or Conron Hall must book these events with the university. Simply put, no one is free to come on campus and say whatever they wish. This is not because of any kind of agenda, but simply to put the best interests of the students first.

If a man set up shop on your front lawn and started yelling things that offended members of your house, you would surely have him removed. The same policy applies to this campus.

The university did nothing wrong by removing the pastor – they simply listened to the feelings of students, acted accordingly and well within their rights.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999