Article and photos by: Conor Merrick | News Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Traveling preacher Luke Beets held a banner in front of the Student Center declaring those in the LGBTQ+ community, Catholics, Muslims, addicts, alcoholics and more were all going to hell.
After news of his presence on campus spread, Beets was confronted by a diverse collection of South Alabama students who thought his message was not only outdated but misinformed, sometimes resulting in a heated discourse. They gathered at the Student Center, handing out snacks, pride stickers and flags to anyone who came to show their support.
Students like Junior Meghan Macnamara didn’t approve of the hateful nature of the message being shared.
“He’s kind of been telling people if they don’t repent they’re going to hell,” Macnamara said. “It’s gained the attention of Spectrum, a couple of students from the Baptist student association, the Catholic student association and the Muslim student association and we all disagree with what he’s saying.”
“The Bible tells me that if I confess my sins, which means to admit the wrong I’ve done, put faith in the death, burial, resurrection of my sins are forgiven,” Beets said while holding his banner. “I don’t want anyone to be a sinner and go to hell.”
Students were quick to confront his beliefs, noting that such beliefs are misinterpretations of the Bible passages he used as evidence to back them up.
“I’m a Christian and I just think this is not the way to go about spreading the gospel,” Freshman Zoe Scarborough said. “Me and other multiple other Christian students have tried talking to him and telling him that what he’s doing is not okay or biblical and he didn’t listen to any of us.”
Beets was given permission to preach his message on campus by South Alabama since it is a public university which makes it his First Amendment right to express his beliefs on campus.
“University policy says I can say anything I want,” Beets said. “What I cannot do, is I cannot force you to do something.”
In South Alabama’s “The Lowdown”, the student handbook, Beets’ right to express his views on campus are laid out under the “outdoor expressive activities” section.
“Expressive activity by individuals or groups who are not members of the campus community may only be held around the Student Center,” the handbook states. “Reservations are not required, but priority use of the space will be given, first to those with reservations and then on a first-come, first-serve basis.”
Beets was on campus for three days, saying students were going to hell if they didn’t repent for identifying as LGBTQ or following non-Christian religions. Freshman psychology major Vinny Brock, a senator for Spectrum, South’s on-campus LGBT organization, feels the message Beets is spreading is problematic.
“The preacher on campus is mostly just spreading hate and telling people to repent,” Brock said. “Obviously, a lot of people don’t agree with it, especially LGBTQ+ students. Some Christian students also come up to him and said ‘hey we don’t like what you’re doing.’ My personal opinion is I don’t think it should be allowed on campus.”
Despite the tense atmosphere, students took the opportunity to band together, feeling the situation created a feeling of unity.
Beets left campus on March 17 and, while packing up his banner and supplies, said he didn’t plan to come the next day but would likely be back next year. Students yelled “don’t come back” and “you’re not welcome here” as he made his way away from the Student Center.