Unless the man known as 'Brother Stephen' becomes disruptive or dangerous, he can do as he wishes. His words might be incendiary and might make some feel uncomfortable. But unless "Brother" Stephen White is actually disruptive to classes or poses an immediate physical danger, University officials will likely let him continue to preach from his familiar pulpit on College Green, several administrators said this week. So far, officials have received few formal complaints about his presence, though there have been some about his loudness. Penn Police officials said he agreed to be a little quieter after they asked him to do so, though White said officials have not approached him. But administrators said they are committed to protecting White's First Amendment rights. "Our position on freedom of expression is clear," said Vice President and General Counsel Peter Erichsen, the University's chief lawyer. "We want to encourage it." White has been a campus fixture since the beginning of the semester, often attracting crowds as large as 75 people as he quotes from scripture and urges students to repent for their "whoremongering" and "fornicating." Over the past six weeks, White has transformed his image from a hateful religious zealot to a popular campus curiosity who has been invited to fraternity parties and recently appeared on UTV13's Midnight Live viewer call-in show. Princeton University, though, was far less welcoming. Authorities told White last month to leave, but he reappeared two weeks later. He was arrested for trespassing on October 15 when a professor complained that White was distracting his class. On Monday, White signed an agreement promising not to set foot on Princeton's property for six months, according to Princeton Public Safety official Barry Weiser. In exchange, Princeton Borough officials downgraded the charge against him to a violation of a city ordinance rather than a trespassing charge, Weiser said. White was back at Princeton yesterday, though, scouting out non-school-owned property. He said he plans to continue preaching there on public sidewalks. Last week, Penn Director of Police Operations Maureen Rush said she was having discussions with other administrators about possibly telling White to stop preaching on University-owned property. But according to Associate Vice Provost for University Life Barbara Cassel, who oversees implementation of the University's Open Expression policy, White is entitled to free expression unless he is violating someone else's rights. Indeed, according to the policy, several enumerated rights -- including the right to "hear, express and debate various views" -- are "fundamental rights which must be upheld and practiced by the University." Some criticisms of White -- that his speech is offensive to many and his anti-gay rhetoric could promote hate crimes -- would probably not be enough for officials to justify expelling him from the campus. Larry Frankel, the executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggested that "the way to respond would be for students who disagree with his speech to organize some kind of event." Such an event would let White know his message is not getting across and let those who feel offended by him know that they are not alone, he said. "You combat bad speech with good speech," Frankel added. White emphasized in an interview yesterday, though, that he does not condone violence. "Christians are totally nonviolent," the 35-year-old Philadelphia resident said. "Jesus wasn't violent at all, and I'm not violent. I've never done anything violent in my life." Since White's on College Green is technically on private property, Frankel said the University probably could constitutionally ask the evangelist to leave. Erichsen, however, said that officials are hesitant to take that step. "It is private property, but on the other hand we permit lots of people to use it and we don't want to be selective," said Erichsen, who was a White House counsel before he came to Penn last December. "There would have to be other circumstances." White said he has received little direct criticism while at Penn. Recently, though, a woman told him that "we are going to have you removed from this campus because you are preaching hate," White recalled. To that, according to White, one of the several dozen people listening to him responded, "Excuse me, but we are adults. If we want to hear this, we will hear this." Open-expression policy has been a touchy subject at the University for much of the decade. Many derided Penn in 1993 as an example of political correctness gone too far, when the University garnered national attention for its handling of two controversial incidents. In January, a student got in trouble for yelling "Shut up, you water buffalo" to a group of African-American women making noise outside his High Rise East apartment. Three months later, a group of African-American students confiscated 14,000 copies of the Daily Pennsylvanian because they were upset about a column they viewed as racist. Penn did not prosecute any of the students involved in the theft. The backlash from those incidents led then-Interim President Claire Fagin to suspend the University's "speech code," which punished students for making racial slurs.Comments powered by Disqus
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