10:27 PM 02/10/2016
The University of Texas at Austin police department issued a disorderly conduct citation to an outdoor preacher on Tuesday after students complained that his message had offended them. The preacher, who was standing just off campus, recorded his interaction with several university police officers, who explained that it was illegal for him to offend the students.
The preacher was an intern with Campus Ministry USA, an evangelical ministry organization that travels around college campuses loudly preaching their message. The ministry is headed by one Brother Jed Smock, who told The Daily Caller that his intern Joshua “was speaking out against STDs, warning against anal sex.”
The university told TheDC that the officer was responding to students who claimed to be “verbally harassed” by the intern-preacher. The video shows the officer explaining that the intern’s use of “anal” and “penis” offended students, before issuing a citation for disorderly conduct. “After a lawyer representing Joshua called the chief of police, the chief called Joshua and apologized. The citation was withdrawn.” Brother Jed told TheDC.
A university spokesperson confirmed that the citation was later “voided,” adding that the officer who originally responded to the complaint is currently in the training process.
Ari Cohn, a lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told TheDC that he found the video “deeply disturbing.” “Speech that simply offends others is protected by the First Amendment, and contrary to the officer’s statements, it is not the job of police to ‘do something’ about it. Issuing a disorderly conduct citation based on the content of speech violates decades of clear Supreme Court precedent,” Cohn said.
“Even worse is that while Brother Jed is not a campus community member, and was not even on campus property, the officer justified his decision with the fact that students on campus across the way were offended. The implications for campus expression are dire,” Cohn went on to say. “If offending someone on campus is now grounds for criminal citations, students wishing to express themselves will much more likely censor themselves, or simply refrain from speaking at all. Such a result is unacceptable, legally and morally, at a state university bound by the First Amendment.”
Despite Tuesday’s events, Brother Jed told TheDC that he and his intern “are planning on returning to UT on Friday around noon and will be on campus most of the afternoon.”