“Saint Ross” Jackson’s controversial preaching has many asking questions about why he was allowed to speak on campus.
On Wednesday and Thursday of last week, students converged on the student pavilion where Jackson was openly expressing his religious views. All he carried was a jug of water and a placard with several messages on it, including one that stated, “You are going to hell,” which also seemed to be his main message.
The crowd around Jackson was made up of students, faculty and Public Safety officers. The officers and most of the faculty members were trying to keep the peace, as students, incited by Jackson’s words, shouted back at him.
Because of the controversial and to many, offensive nature of Jackson’s preaching, many questioned why he was even allowed to be on campus in the first place.
According to a statement by Scott Ely, college attorney, “The college, as a public institution, is obligated under both the state and federal constitutions to provide a forum for individuals to express their opinions, even if such opinions convey moral or political viewpoints that are repugnant to the college and to its student body.”
Guidelines for use of the forum space are outlined in the Campus Free Speech and Assembly statement, available on the college’s website. The designated public forum space is the student pavilion.
Any person or organization wanting to use the space must fill out the appropriate paperwork and submit it to the Vice President of Administration. He is also subject to the campus Code of Conduct.
There are certain “blackout dates” during which the public forum space is not open to public use, such as during Spring Break.
“On Sept. 12, he was granted permission to use the public forum space,” said Dennis Kennedy, director of communications and marketing, about Jackson. “He did complete the necessary paperwork and complied with our policy to use the space.”
Administration is not allowed to ask about the content of the speech, charge any sort of application fees to use the space or impose insurance requirements when deciding whether or not to accept an application.
According to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Americans have the right to free speech, assembly and the press. They also have the right to express their religious views and petition their government. Therefore, college officials could not censor Jackson’s words, no matter how they were received on campus.
“The college’s ability to regulate such speech is limited to time, place and manner in which such speech is conducted. It may not regulate the content of any expression pursuant to the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said Ely in his statement.
The only exception to the First Amendment is if the speech contains “threats” or “fighting words” that result in violence or a breach of the peace. According to Ely, “Threats” are defined as: “Statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”
Though Jackson was bound by the campus Code of Conduct, it cannot be used against a person exercising his constitutional right to free speech unless such discourse promotes physical violence of psychological intimidation.
“In this case, the speaker’s speech did not rise to the level where the college could legally prevent him from expressing his point of view without violating his First Amendment rights,” said Ely. “Thus, the type of speech as the college experienced the last couple days is constitutionally protected, and overrides the Code of Conduct and the intent of the College to maintain a bias-free environment.”
Jackson played football for Hudson Valley and graduated in 2002 with a physical education degree. He currently lives in North Carolina and is the leader of Revival Mission Ministries.