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Iowa State's Atheist & Agnostic Society: Don't Tolerate Intolerance


Iowa State University's Atheist and Agnostic Society heard about an upcoming campus visit by a traveling Christian preacher of intolerant views. Rather than organize a loud, angry protest (or getting arrested!), they chose to organize a (Mostly) Silent Protest, inviting several other campus groups who support tolerance and diversity. Anastasia Bodnar, president of ISUAAS, wrote this article for the group's blog.

Our (Mostly) Silent Protest Against Tom Short on Wednesday (15 April 2009) was a great success, thanks in part to the ISU LGBTA Alliance getting the message to their members. Campus Pastor Jim Shirbroun and Campus Minister Chris Hockley along with students from the Wesley Foundation of the Collegiate Methodist Church were also invited and attended the protest.

Tom Short is a professional traveling preacher who has a bit of a reputation for getting personal, for publicly singling out students for name-calling and condemnation. He seems to have tempered his speech a bit, but continues to preach intolerance of religions, cultures, lifestyles, etc. that do not match his. Sadly, his views are far from unique. Happily, there are many people, Christian and otherwise, that do not agree. Instead, we value the similarities and differences that find in each other.

The idea for the protest was taken in part from discussions led by Chris at the Wesley Foundation's Third Way Team meetings. The team's goal is to organize rapid response to intolerance on campus, and to advocate a way of communication that isn't adversarial. I followed their example in quickly organizing a respectful protest. It was only few hours between AAS member Tori Crum's email to me with the information that Tom Short was on campus and the posting of a Facebook event for the protest.

Attendance from about 12pm to 4pm varied widely, peaking with perhaps 200 people as students stopped by between classes. It was hard to tell who was part of the protest, who was simply curious, and who was supporting Tom. AAS supplied both protesters and supporters of Tom with cardstock and crayons on which to express their own ideas. We also handed out quarter sheet flyers advertising our upcoming Your Choice, Our Voice event.

Some of the attendees didn't stay silent, as was their right. Some attempted to engage Tom in debate, but these attempts often ended with Tom saying "stop distracting me". Some members of the Alliance spoke out in favor of equality regarding to LGBT rights. There was also a young self-described Christian prophet who attempted to use humor and his skateboard as a counterpoint to Tom's speech, but ended up being escorted away by police.

All in all, the members of the AAS that attended were quiet, choosing to converse among ourselves and fellow protesters, displaying our signs. A few (most notably biology major Tsadia Fisher) attempted to engage Tom in debate, using their knowledge of the bible to counter Tom's examples, but the debate was not fruitful.

The day was a perfect example of the First Amendment in action - especially fitting because it was the day before the annual Feast on the First Amendment, at which AAS had a booth. Members of the Third Way Team had a letter to the editor published in the Daily on First Amendment Day: Find common ground and respectfully disagree (reprinted on the blog for posterity). Their recommendations for positive discourse are something we should all aspire to.

The silent protest was covered in the ISU Daily: Atheist and Agnostic Society protests pastor on campus (reprinted on the blog for posterity). The title of the article is misleading, as we were not protesting the man's right to speak or even his presence on campus. We were simply showing that not everyone agrees with his interpretation of the bible, and that everyone (not just him) has a right to make their own interpretation and share their thoughts with others.

Tom Short discusses his view of the event on his website (reprinted on the blog for posterity). It's interesting how different his view of the day is compared to my view of the day. What did you think? Comment (on the ISUAAS blog) with your own reaction to or story about this event.

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