Our View: We support First Amendment rights for everyone and encourage students to attend Tinker Tour events and use Brother Jed Smock’s religious ranting as an opportunity to explore their rights.
It’s that time of year again, folks. The sun is shining, birds are singing, flowers are blooming and local preachers are screaming on the South Oval. Yep, it’s springtime at OU. Brother Jed Smock, a preacher who has been visiting college campuses for over 40 years, made an appearance at OU on Tuesday, but this time was different. Even though we don’t agree with the often-hateful messages delivered by Smock, we do support his First Amendment right to speak on public property. But on Tuesday, students from the Constitutional Studies Student Association used Smock’s presence as an opportunity to explore the limits of their own First Amendment rights. We applaud those students, especially since the issue is especially prevalent at OU this week.
Smock’s public sermon on the doomed fate of many college students’ souls is particularly fitting, considering the Tinker Tour is making a stop at OU today. The tour travels the U.S. to speak about First Amendment issues and was started by Mary Beth Tinker, the plaintiff in a 1969 Supreme Court case in which the court ruled in 13-year-old Tinker’s favor and supported her freedom of speech after she was suspended from school for wearing a black armband in remembrance of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. The Tinker Tour reminds students of their First Amendment rights and upholds the court decision that state students and teachers should not lose their First Amendment rights at school.
With that in mind, we must uphold the rights of all involved parties in tricky situations, like Smock yelling at students that they are likely going to hell. Not only does Smock have the right to say whatever he wants on public property, but students passing by also have the right to respond to him. Students also have the right to playfully parody Smock, as the Constitutional Studies Student Association did by sitting on a couch and playing “Brother Jed Bingo.”
Regardless of whether you see Smock’s ranting as an expression of his freedom of speech or as disruptive, unwanted harassment, his words inevitably open important dialogue on campus about the First Amendment. And more than anything, we believe it is essential to continually discuss our First Amendment rights, because without the freedom of the press and freedom of speech, we wouldn’t able to do our jobs or represent the needs and desires of OU students.
Open, unfettered discourse does so much more to advance humanity than complacent silence. Although we think it’s a bit psychotic for Smock to claim all women with short hair are lesbians or that listening to rock music will send you to hell, his yelling inspires students to have serious conversations about religion, ethics and morals. We are just as inspired by the students who choose to go toe-to-toe with Smock on biblical scriptures as the students who choose to play "Brother Jed Bingo." We love that both reactions incite meaningful thought about our First Amendment rights.
In same spirit of celebrating our constitutional rights, we encourage all students to attend Thursday’s Tinker Tour events on campus. Even though we have to put up with opposing viewpoints, like those of Smock, we wouldn’t trade our right to speak freely for anything.