Michael Bray

Author of A Time To Kill

Campus Preacher’s Right to Preach Assaulted at Murray State

Michael Bray
February, 2008

Campus Preacher’s Right to Preach Assaulted
And Successfully Defended
Administrators of Murray State University: Blameworthy

On 29 September, 2006, the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky in behalf of a street evangelist, James Gilles. The preacher had his right to speak in the public arena unlawfully denied by university campus authorities.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund in Paducah, Kentucky reported in a press release on the same day that the school officials of Murray State University “barred James Gilles, a frequent speaker on the campus since the 1980s, from speaking and distributing literature on campus due to university ‘policy.’” Senior Counsel Nate Kellum noted that MSU officials chose “suddenly” to “enforce a discriminatory policy.” The report also stated:

Gilles, who speaks and distributes literature on campuses across the country, utilized public areas on MSU’s campus for approximately two decades before the director of the school’s Curris Center for Student Life informed him in 2004 that speakers were required to secure a “sponsorship” in order to continue their free speech activities.

The campus official most at fault in terms of his personal actions was James Baurer, the Director of the Curris Center for Student Life. According to The ADF release, Brauer personally “made an offer to sponsor Gilles so that he could distribute literature but not speak on campus. Gilles declined, and the offer was later rescinded.”

Gilles declined the offer of sponsorship because he did not wish to surrender his write to speak as well as distribute literature. The response of the school was to bar Gilles from doing either.

When Gilles found others on campus who would sponsor him, the school “rebuffed” him.

It appears that it was nothing but the content of Gilles’s speech which had the administration abuzz with resistance. The Gideons, a Christian group which engaged in speaking as well as distributing literature on campus, “were permitted to continue their activities although they were not being sponsored by any student organization or university department,” according to the ADF release

The facts of the case are even more bizarre when read directly from the complaint.
Our story begins on this wise:

Upon his arrival in 1991, and being directed to the free speech area on the west side of the Curris Center, Mr. Gilles spoke for three consecutive days. On those three visits, Mr. Gilles shared his values and religious beliefs with the students and others who were in the vicinity.
29. A local student newspaper, Murray State News, reported on Mr. Gilles’ speech activity in 1991. The news article noted that Mr. Gilles was not sponsored by any organization. In the article, Mr. Baurer responded to a question about Mr. Gilles’ presence, and advised that he was aware of Mr. Gilles being there for three days. Mr. Baurer specifically acknowledged that no university policy specified any restrictions on off-campus speakers.
30. In the mid to late 1990’s, Mr. Gilles had some conversations with some university officials which indicated that he could start incurring some resistance from the university about his speech. This suspicion was confirmed when Mr. Gilles returned to the MSU campus to speak in 2004.
31. On October 4, 2004, James Gilles visited MSU, and again, he did so for the purpose of expressing his religious viewpoints. On this day, per custom, Mr. Gilles positioned himself in the pedestrian mall area located just west of the Curris Center.
32. Mr. Gilles began to speak at approximately 12:10 p.m. that day. Thereafter, at approximately 1:30 p.m., he was approached by Mr. Baurer. Mr. Baurer informed Mr. Gilles that he would have to stop his expression until he filled out a form and secured sponsorship for his speech.

Like Ninevehans unresponsive to the first round of preaching by Jonah, these officials did not respond positively to the three days of preachments from Mr. Gilles, and they preferred, likewise, to shut him up. Now why these paid officials would want to discourage such free lectures (which were certainly unavailable to students in their classrooms and even – it may be fairly assumed – in the pulpits of those campus-area churches into which a student might wander on the Lord’s Day) is a curiosity in itself.

Seeking to continue to communicate with not only literary tracts but oral preachments as well, Mr. Gilles secured sponsorship offers from authentic members of the academic institution. The complaint continues:

33. Mr. Gilles announced the sponsorship requirement to the individuals around him and several students expressed a sincere desire to sponsor Mr. Gilles, but these students were denied the opportunity to sponsor Mr. Gilles. They were told by Mr. Baurer that an individual student could not serve as a sponsor for Mr. Gilles.
34. For fear of arrest, Mr. Gilles stopped speaking and left the campus.

Later that very day, Mr. Gilles spoke with one Don Robertson in his capacity as Vice President of Student Affairs about the restrictions his speech. “Mr. Robertson,” avers the complaint, “provided no relief.”

The story, as it continues in the complaint, illustrates the obstructionist tactics employed by Mr. Baurer as he thwarted the preaching of Mr. Gilles but allowed that of others.

40 . . . On October 6, 2004, Mr. Gilles went to the campus of MSU again. While there, Mr. Gilles noticed a religious organization, the Gideons, having free access on the open grounds of the campus, and that several individuals associated with the Gideons were engaged in unrestricted expression on the campus. The Gideons were passing out religious literature and conversing with students about their religious beliefs.
41. Upon noting the expressive activity of the Gideons, Mr. Gilles spoke with Mr. Baurer again. Mr. Gilles requested a photocopy of the sponsorship form filled out by the Gideons.
42. Mr. Baurer complied with Mr. Gilles’ request and gave him a photocopy of the Gideons’ form. The form revealed that the Gideons did not have sponsorship from any student rganization or university department, and yet, they were granted permission to speak “all around MSU campus.”

It may be surmised that Mr. Gilles applied a preaching style which differed vastly from that of the more placid Gideons whose irenic ways may well be preferred by the more sedate academic establishment. Mr. Gilles is reputed to prefer a more specific identification of “sin” in poignant terms. His discourses are pertinent to the contemporary college student in contrast to the more general and non-specific (less direct?) preaching style of the Gideons. Mr. Gilles makes a point to identify the specific popular sins from which he is calling the collegians to repent so that he can confidently communicate with his audience. For example, he specifies the sins of heterosexual fornication, sexual perversions (sodomy, bestiality, pederasty, pedophilia), and wanton child murder (abortion, infanticide) so that the hearers don’t depart from his lecture with doubt about whether or not they need to repent and reconstruct positive self-images.

But these considerations, though they may point to the crux of the reason for suppressing Mr. Gilles, fail to vindicate the actions of the rulers of the campus. The administrators, like campus lords, have determined to prevent Mr. Gilles from preaching. And there is no other reason we may infer other than that they did not like his message.

Messrs. Baurer and Roberts have broken trust with the all of the students of the university as well as the faculty and any visitors who could have heard the message which was silenced by their unlawful actions.

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