After reviewing a citation written to an evangelical preacher for disorderly conduct, the University of Texas Police Department voided the citation because it did not meet the requirements of the law.
“Our review further showed that the officers in training responded to a call for service in good faith and with respect for all parties involved, including the person(s) wishing to file charges as well those being accused,” UTPD Chief David Carter said in a statement.
UTPD officers wrote the citation for Joshua Borchert, an intern with Campus Ministry USA, after a young woman called about a group of people on the sidewalk next to West Mall who she said were saying offensive things. Campus Ministry USA is a religious organization that travels to college campuses across the nation, preaching its beliefs to students.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives all people the right to freedom of speech. Even hurtful and hateful speech is covered under the amendment, and police officers must defend everyone’s constitutional rights, Carter said.
“We’re there to protect and serve, but we have to do so within the constitution framework,” Carter said. “If there’s not a threat of violence based on speech, the police really cannot do anything.”
Carter said if an individual was threatening a student with their speech, the police could and would take action against that person.
Tuesday was not the first or the last time members from Campus Ministry USA have visited UT’s campus. Brother Jed Smock said he has visited the public area right off West Mall for more than 40 years and plans to return Friday.
Smock preaches his religious views at universities across the nation and said no matter where he speaks, someone will not like what his group says.
Smock said his intern, Bochert, was speaking out about sexually transmitted diseases and using “biological terms” including “penis” and “anus” when the officers arrived and wrote the now-voided citation.
“Of course our position is if people are offended, they don’t have to listen,” Smock said. “The first amendment of the Constitution protects offensive speech ... if anyone says anything of substance, it’s bound to offend someone.”
Religious studies and history senior Matt Cooper said he does not agree with the message Smock and his colleagues are preaching or how they go about interacting with students near campus.
“I definitely don’t agree with the way that they’re spreading that message,” Cooper said. “It seems to me that it’s more hurtful to their cause, and I don’t really think that’s what Christianity is about.”
Cooper said he does recognize everyone has the right to free speech and that Campus Minisitry USA cannot be kicked off the public sidewalk for that. Cooper said he thinks the best way for students to react is to not give them attention.
“It seems to me the best way would be to just ignore him, because I do think that he is seeking a reaction,” Cooper said. “That’s what that type of preaching is intended to do — either in a good way or in a bad a way — but I think not giving them that reaction would be the best way to deal with it.”