Zlock First Amendment Forum Raises Questions Over Protests

Jeff Garton

Jeff Garton

John Fey

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A little cold didn’t stop Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt, president of Bucks County Community College, and Bucks lawyer Jeffrey P. Garton from hosting an event on free speech in the Zlock Performing Arts Center on the Newtown campus on Thursday, Feb. 1.
The talk comes in the wake of multiple visits to the college by Pastor Aden (who Shanblatt did not refer to by name), the infamous preacher that lets everyone in earshot know that, according to him and his congregation, they are probably going to Hell. His appearances on campuses have sparked outrage amongst students and staff alike who take offense to his call to repent for the alleged sin of a multitude of things like being a “gamer” or a “fornicator,” to being Catholic or Muslim.
His speeches are often mingled with harassment of students passing by, as he creates distractions from classes as he purposefully sets himself up in front of Grupp Hall, basically the middle of the campus, where most students have to walk through to go to class.
Thursday’s event focused primarily on Pastor Aden and the questions students and staff have about his presence on campus. The main question: why is the school permitting him on campus?
Garton, a member of the Bucks County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations, wanted the audience to know that he and Shanblatt were not there to lecture those present, but to educate everyone on the importance of the First Amendment and how it protects all speech, included the hate speech of “the unintended visitor,” as Garton referred to him.
“Just because speech is not popular doesn’t mean it is not protected,” he continued. Garton expounded on this, informing all present of the logistics of the freedom of speech that Aden and the students have. He also reminded the audience of the fact that the First Amendment and freedom of speech are very American things; most countries don’t have laws protecting speech like America does.
Pastor Aden poses a special issue to campus because his speech is so volatile and hateful that it has almost caused physical confrontations with Aden and students. Aden has shown up unannounced in the past, which gives security little to no time to prep for him, like setting up a barricade for his and students’ safety. Also, Aden doesn’t want to move to different parts of campus, preferring to set up in front of Grupp Hall. “That’s the challenge we’ve had,” said Shanblatt. He doesn’t want to play by the minimal rules the security sets for him. “We do as best we can to manage him,” Garton said.
After they were finished talking, a Q&A took place with all present. Many of the students and staff asked normal questions about the First Amendment and the threat Aden poses on students and others. One student mentioned that he could show up when the school has young visitors from elementary schools present and his language will fall on their ears. “That is the ugly consequence of his speech,” said Garton. One staffer proposed that students sign a petition to have him banned from the school, to which Garton made it clear that it probably won’t work because not everyone will sign such a petition. Another student mentioned that his speech might pose a threat to students with mental disabilities and those who suffer from PTSD.
While most of the audience understood what was said and that Aden had the right to be on campus, some felt otherwise. One of the first students to ask a question plainly asked why he is allowed to be here after it was just explained. One staffer said “I’m a little frustrated that we are not a little bolder with him,” to which a security team member told the audience that Aden now has to report to the Newtown police before arriving for safety reasons. There was also a baseless allegation that Aden has promoted self-harm and suicide amongst students, which would be going beyond his free speech rights.
During all these questions, Dr. Shanblatt made it clear that, while Pastor Aden is legally allowed to speak on campus, Bucks does not agree with him at all and detests his presence on campus. “We do not want to become a beacon for Pastor Aden,” she said. When asked if there was any potential benefit from students being exposed to and questioning someone like Aden, Shanblatt said she does not feel that way because he is simply looking to get attention and nothing else.
To wrap things up, one student, in a “closing statement”, said that hate speech is not protected speech and that is the problem with his presence at Bucks, a statement that created many a confused face in the Zlock PAC. It was obvious that some people were not getting the message intended, but most present left with questioned answered and misconceptions dispelled thanks to Dr. Shanblatt and Mr. Garton.


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