"Are you a child of light or a child of darkness?" asked Angela Cummings, an on-campus preacher at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
The preacher is a regular at the UTC campus. She has garnered the attention and direct disdain from students who are not fond of her message. One student, Cole Montalvo, voiced his displeasure and questioned how calling everyone sinners spreads the gospel.
The result? Arrest.
In his earnestness to let his opinions be known, he wheeled himself and his bike through a coned area that the administration had designated only for the preacher. In it were only her and a pulpit.
As security guards asked him to leave, the student resisted. Montalvo ended up arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and inciting a riot. On top of all of this, on-lookers who agreed with the arrested student started shouting that he had not been read any Miranda rights.
Watching the viral videos of last Thursday's incident, I was shocked. How could someone be arrested for protesting against heckling?
We have all endured the ravings of our own preacher. Just this semester, a large group of students debated back and forth with the infamous Bible man on Pedestrian Walkway. If you were present, you knew the weather was cold, but the words hot. The simple fact is no one wants to be attacked or told that they will suffer at the hands of God for their adulterous ways.
Whether you believe in a higher power or not, common ground on the rights of students and those of a non-student must be met.
Cummings was able to voice her opinions in a space exclusive to her. Infringing on that boundary equaled handcuffs and mace for Montalvo.
Is the Chattanooga campus paying attention to the barriers it is forcing on its students?
In a place that is supposed to foster intellectual debate and thought, limiting the response of a person with opposing views is a risky endeavor. The campus is stifling the reactions of the campus body and explicitly endorsing the views of a zealot.
We do not have these problems in Knoxville, and the Chattanooga campus could stand to take a few notes.
Anyone who wishes to come on Pedestrian and speak, with the required requests, is free to do so. There are no boundaries, neither visible nor unseen, for students or speakers. Instead, the campus expects involved parties to respect one another, and we always rise to the occasion.
The superfluous presence of cones and security only adds fuel to a fire that exists when religion and education come together. The two rarely mix well but mimic oil and water, always surrounding one another but never forming a solution.
Coned off enclosures do not solve the problem; they disrespect the freedoms of students and their opinions.
Those watching almost instantly began booing and chanting the defenses of the unfortunate student to the police.
"People with varying viewpoints are allowed to express them on campus. This is the college experience," said Chuck Cantrell, school vice chancellor of Communications.
That college experience was in full effect when students rallied against the mistreatment of one of their own. As Montalvo was escorted away, it was not long before Cummings resumed her speech, this time touching upon the book of Revelation.
The remaining students' disapproval resumed as well.
An important lesson in student involvement emerged this week. Say what you will about student apathy about the electoral process, but we'll oftentimes prove you wrong.
Here on our respective campuses, defending our rights to eat where we choose or disagree with religion prepares us to defend our rights on larger scales.
A petition posted on www.change.org is addressed to the university's president, and around 1,500 people have signed it. Also on the site is a video that Montalvo managed to record while in the back of the squad car. I encourage everyone to watch this video and consider signing the petition.
As THE University of Tennessee, we have a responsibility to the students in Chattanooga. Whichever campus we attend, we all represent the largest institution of higher learning in this state.
Let's defend it.
Rebecca Butcher is a junior in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at email@example.com.