Opinion: Just walk away from inflammatory comments

Fundamentalist Christian preacher, Jed Smock, preaches in Bosco Plaza as students listen, protest and argue on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 2014. Smock comes to K-State every year to preach and also travels to other universities around the country. (Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

At Bosco Student Plaza Tuesday, I thought I was seeing something out of a movie. An odd looking man was surrounded by a crowd yelling obscenities, trying their hardest to provoke him. “This can’t be happening at K-State,” I thought. “No way a group that preaches ‘family’ and prides themselves in accepting others would act like this.”

The sad truth was that they were.

In the 30 minutes I was there, I was continually baffled by the crowd of about a hundred people’s antics. As a photographer and editor of The Collegian I am not new to these kinds of crowds. It began with groups of people going up and taking selfies with the man. People thought they were being funny. They weren’t. Making fun of others may not harm anyone physically, but it’s still a form of bullying. K-State’s official discrimination policy defines harassment as “conduct toward a person or persons based on race, color, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, ancestry, disability, genetic information, military status or veteran status that: has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work (or educational) environment.” While the actions of the crowd do not violate the policy since it was not a work, housing or academic environment – the K-State Student Union is a separate entity from the university itself – it probably would if it happened in one of those environments. The harassment didn’t stop there though.

Next, two women entered the ring of protestors and kissed in front of the preacher. I am in favor of same-sex marriage and have a sister that identifies as gay, so by no means was I offended by the action. No, what really bothered me was the evidence that these women thought it was okay to go up and provoke a man that was not doing anything to them but sharing his beliefs. Does no one follow the golden rule anymore? To be fair, the man did yell “burn!” after witnessing the kiss. It was closely followed by laughs and cheers from the crowd. The women were looking to antagonize the man and the crowd thought it was okay to yet again make fun of those who do not share their beliefs.

Emotions peaked when a man decided to steal the preacher’s hat. His action was met with more positive screaming. The police were quick to react and eventually made the man return the hat with an apology. That situation could have escalated frighteningly easily. Yet again I was left wondering, “Why do people think this is okay? Would they act this way if he was talking about civil rights, or more current Christian ideas?” Probably not.

Our society lately seems to think people can’t have differing views than them. The man sharing his religious views is just the tip of the iceberg. What happened to respecting the fact people have different views than you, however strange or radical? What happened to ignoring something that isn’t harming you? It’s a sad society we live in that we can’t all agree to disagree.

But not all hope is lost. I did hear about one man who was the bigger person and walked away.

A friend of Middle Eastern descent shared his experience with me from that day. He said he was walking through Bosco Plaza when the man called him over.

“No thanks, I’m already deep in the Muslim faith,” he said.

The preacher proceeded to call him a terrorist as he walked away. Out of all the people I saw that day, he is the only one I heard that was actually attacked without provocation. He did the most grown-up thing: ignored the comment and walked away.