UMass Students vs Christian Preachers: Who should our university protect?

Protest against hate speech led to student arrest last month


Amherst –  Last month, on Oct. 28, 2019, UMass Amherst sophomore Ian Miller was arrested and charged with larceny for sticking up for his underrepresented classmates when a religious group filled the campus atmosphere with unfriendly banter. 

At UMass, the administration lives on the motto “Hate has no home at UMass,” yet hecklers are invited to campus to rile up students. Miller believes that this motto is hypocritical if religious groups are granted free hate speech on campus. 

While hate groups “have no home at UMass Amherst,” Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy neglected informing the public university of the predicament last month. 

Miller recalled that on that Monday, “there were these street preachers by the Anthropology department, and they were holding signs that said evolution was a lie.” 

“I thought it was ironic at first, a little humorous almost, but then started to hear what they were saying. Evolution was a lie, was just one of their platforms that they were talking about,” said Miller. “They were also quite sexist, homophobic and racist in what they were saying, so I took issue with that pretty quickly.”

Luke 24 vs 27 led by Don Karns, is a Christian group with a goal “dedicated to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and fallen world and proclaiming what the Lord Jesus Christ did for sinners in order to bring us right before Him, and to bring Glory to God,” according to their website. 

Karns visited UMass Amherst, as Miller recalled, preaching to students about evolution, the existence of God and the sinfulness of homosexuality. 

The public platform riled up students as they walked from class to class. Outraged students began to circle the preachers and protest against them. Additionally, Karns’ presence led to the arrest of Miller. 

Several students refused to let the preachers spread their mission on campus. Students entrapped the preachers yelling back at them, mocking them, kissing in front of them and attempting to stand on their platformed stool. 

The platformed stool became the sacred chalice of the day. 

As Miller noticed a physical scuffle between Karns and a student over the school, he enforced a direct action protest and stole the stool. 

“I tried to think about what to do in that situation besides yelling at them or walking by… I felt like something else should’ve been done. They were making a big deal out of this little step stool that they had, another student at one point tried to step onto it and make their own points against what they were saying. But they (Karns and his group) pushed him off and got a little physical and aggressive, so the step stool became a focal point. I decided that I would take the step stool, and throw it off the escapade of the library,” Miller said.

Miller recalls students cheering him on as he sprinted away from UMass Amherst Police. However, the rush of excitement was cut short when Miller was cuffed and escorted into a jail cell for an hour with no resistance. 

Brie Bristol

This was Miller’s first arrest. 

“They had two avenues with which they could have charged me with. It was either disruption or larceny – which is theft. The hate group requested that I be charged with larceny, and I was,” said Miller.

Additionally, Miller felt that this charge was inaccurate since Karns’ stool was returned. 

When contacted about Miller’s request to be charged with larceny, Karns said “I requested of the police that NO charges be filed against the student and was informed that he had already been apprehended, was in custody and the stool would be held as evidence against him. Since then the only communication I have had with the police was to say he had been taken to court. Therefore, any claim that myself or of the men with me requested or desired to see anyone arrested or punished is completely fictitious.” 

As Miller was detained in a UMass Police Department cold cell for an hour, where he was granted one phone call, following with an immediate court hearing. Miller acknowledged that his actions might not be seen as productive. However, he expressed that he did not regret taking action in support of his minority peers because he felt that the religious group can be qualified as a hate group. 

On that Monday, the word minority was casted off the library escapade by both ends of the spectrum. The crowd of students felt as if they were being attacked, however, Karns felt that he was the minority in the situation. 

“If the majority of students label us, slander us, and make false accusations; I think on the Amherst campus that day we were the “minority”, and the hate that day was directed at the preachers,” said Karns. 

In an email Karns said he is not part of a hate group; he is just a man who has been born again by the Spirit of God.

Instead of addressing the matter and reaffirming that hateful slander is not tolerated on campus, the UMass Amherst administration reprimanded Miller. 

He was required to attend a UMass BASICS course costing him $100 and write an essay discussing strategies to engage in conversations with individuals who have different perspectives around social justice issues.

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