Man Exercises First Amendment Rights on Campus
"Judge not, lest ye be judged!" shouted one Santa Monica College student yesterday afternoon above a blend of heated exclamations from more than 100 others.
These students crowded around one bearded man who held up a large sign reading: "SATAN'S CHILDREN: REPENT OR HELL."
The picketer, Paul Mitchell, is a retired fireman who said that , after an earlier life of "Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll" became a "born-again Christian," traveling to several college campuses, gay-pride parades and the like to communicate one very controversial message: that those who do not believe that Jesus is the "only begotten Son of God," the only "Savior" for the world and who do not follow his laws will forcibly endure endless and "unimaginable" punishment.
As his sign pointed out, these "Children of Satan" include, but are certainly not limited to, "lost" Jews, Muslims, atheists, homosexuals, "weirdo sex perverts," transsexuals, "mouthy women," "girlie-men" and "other sin-loving heathen."
But the majority of the mob of students surrounding Mitchell did not concur. A half-eaten bagel, and eventually a milkshake found their way through the air in the picketer's direction.
Members of SMC's Feminist Alliance Club, wearing their trademark "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirts, stood in front of him while burning his business cards. After about 20 minutes of tension bordering on violence, with almost 200 students protesting Mitchell's message and a few defending his point of view or at least his right to free speech, a group of police came into the scene in order to, according to one officer, "try to keep things peaceful."
"It's a community college. He's a taxpayer. The school is paid for by taxes, so he has the right to be here," said Jafet Santiago, Associated Students vice president, in response to the countless students who expressed strongly that they wanted Mitchell taken off the SMC campus. Robin Yancey, a student watching the event, applauded Mitchell's "bold move" but at the same time found his message to be "disrespectful." Though many others respected his First Amendment right of freedom of speech, most could not tolerate his "intolerant" message.
"He told me that the Bible says that women should not lead. Jesus came to be a peacemaker and [Mitchell] is the opposite of that," said Sarah Edwards, a political science major, pointing out a contradiction of Mitchell's claim to be a "messenger" of the teachings of Jesus. Another attendee questioned Mitchell sarcastically and said, "My mom went to work on Sunday, which, according to the Bible, is a sin deserving death. So, how should I kill her?"
However, a few students defended Mitchell's message, such as theater major George Watson, who said that the picketer's sign is the "truth" and that someone who is not "saved" has no real identity. But to students like Maxwell Gail who did not agree with his views, it was "inconsequential," since there were clearly countless more students "against" Mitchell than "with" him.
"It gets worse every year," said Mitchell after he put his sign down and got ready to leave SMC.
"I go to different campuses and preach for about an hour. But all I really want to do is talk one-on-one with anyone who wants to."
He explained that he tries to communicate his message of "truth" to the world, though "90 percent" of those he encounters "hate [his] guts." During the protest, he continued to reply to one question after another from the crowd. Some asked cynically, but others with sincerity. However, each answer he gave contained one bottom line, which an individual is not a "child of God" saved from eternal damnation until he or she professes "faith in Jesus as God's only begotten son."
This clearly excludes the majority of humanity, and most specifically, according to Mitchell, the "Jews who do not accept Jesus as the messiah."
Sam Hersch, 18, a graphic design major incredibly familiar with the Bible, boldly responded to Mitchell from the front of the crowd. "To quote the Pauline epistle [Romans of the New Testament], which you yourself were named after, 'all the Jews will be saved... God will have mercy upon all.' That's 11:32...you cannot judge us. It is between each one of us, and God."
The young student continued to speak to the picketer, while quoting the Bible ironically. "I have three words for you", he said, "I forgive you. For you know not what you do."
This was met with thunderous applause from the majority of surrounding students. Edwards agreed, again implying a contradiction between Mitchell's professed belief in the Bible and the discriminating words which he uses toward different groups of people.
"Jesus said let those who are sinless throw the first stone. His words are those stones."