A balding man in a grey suit and brown tie, waving a Bible on the lawn behind Luther Bonney Hall last Wednesday, shouted reasons why students, passersby — and anyone within earshot — needed God.
“I’m trying to help folks,” said Brother Terry, a preacher who has been frequenting the Portland and Gorham campuses the last couple years because he said students need help.
If you were on the Portland campus last week, there’s a good chance you heard him preaching in the common behind Luther Bonney. Terry refused to give his last name because he said he feared for his safety.
“They’ve lost their foundation,” said Terry. “This generation doesn’t know God.”
Some of the students were more concerned with the volume of his preaching, which Terry admits can get loud because he is used to being a street preacher.
“It disturbs the peace while students are studying. If I wanted to hear someone preach I would go to church,” said Hannah McComish, senior psychology major. “I was on my way to class and it seemed pretty evasive and pushy.”
McComish said she didn’t mind when he was silently praying on other days, but finally objected and confronted Terry on Wednesday.
She said she approached him, raising her voice to his level to tell him he wasn’t doing any good for anyone and was only preventing people from studying.
“He told me specifically that I’m going to hell because I’m vulgar,” said McComish. “He was just shouting in my face basically.”
Others like Kate McMahon, an American and New England Studies graduate student, didn’t mind until he started preaching about homosexuality. “The Bible says it’s a sin,” said Terry.
“I kind of moved away because I got really offended and called campus police,” said McMahon. “I’m an ally to the gay community. Two of my best friends consider themselves homosexuals.”
“We should be focused on school and not have to deal with bigotry and hatred,” she said. “People like to be out there and study.”
However, Terry says he isn’t preaching hate. “I don’t hate. I love people.”
“It seems whenever we preach or touch on homosexuality, we get more of a backlash,” he said, commenting on the complaint by McMahon.
Bob Caswell, university spokesman, said people are allowed to be on university property, exercising their freedom of speech, regardless of their beliefs. “We ask that do it in such a way that they do not disrupt classes,” he said.
“In the days previous, it was too loud,” said USM Police Officer Jeffrey Soper. On Wednesday, Soper asked Terry to move to the other side of the walkway, away from Luther Bonney.
He said Terry complies with any requests by campus police.
Soper said as long as verbal attacks aren’t targeted towards anyone specifically or it’s not interrupting classes, they won’t intervene.
“We’re just trying to work with everybody,” said Soper.
Terry was not the only preacher outside Luther Bonney on Wednesday though. Jeremy Hiltz, an Anabaptist with a distinct bushy chinstrap beard and suspenders, was preaching for his second day at USM on Wednesday. Both preachers made it very clear on multiple occasions that they were in no way affiliated with each other.
However unlike Terry, Hiltz had a warmer reception from some students. Two students were talking with Hiltz when Soper, who had received a complaint for preaching outside Luther Bonney against homosexuality, mistakenly thought Hiltz was the one causing the disturbance. Hiltz alerted Soper that Terry was whom the complaint stemmed from.
One of the students talking to Hiltz, Joshua Merrill, a senior sociology major, said he was drawn to Hiltz intellectually. “I was attracted to this as a very different message than what was happening here,” he said, pointing to Terry’s stand.
“There’s certainly some things that man was saying that were extremely offensive,” said Merrill, referring to Terry.
McComish said what bothered her most about Terry’s sermon was that other students who were irritated by it weren’t speaking up.
She said she’s respectful of religion. “What I don’t appreciate is when people don’t respect my decision not to be religious,” said McComish.
McMahon agreed that Terry was pushing his views on bystanders. “It’s fine if you’re talking about what you believe but I don’t think you should push your religion on anyone,” she said. She said she wouldn’t mind if it was at a conversational level instead.
Hiltz said he’s looking for campuses where it’s okay to speak publicly, like at USM. “Every campus is different.”
As of now, Soper said there isn’t a problem with the preachers on campus, as long as the volume isn’t disturbing classes. He said their speech has to raise to the level of “fighting words” for it to become a problem. McComish, however, said she believes in free speech but Terry was crossing the line by disturbing the peace.
Don’t expect preachers on campus to disappear anytime soon, as USM allows anyone to exercise their freedom of speech on the public university’s property.
“I’m not going to give up on the campus,” said Terry.
Chelsea Ellis contributed reporting.
I wish I could have been there. Be get offended by the bible for some reason. They can have thier hop contests and whatnot outside with loud music but when someone preaches loudly it becomes a problem. Pray for this USM school.