CHATTANOOGA Tenn.—Students at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, are asking the administration to take action against a street preacher after a fellow student was arrested while trying to talk to her.
Hundreds of people congregated in the campus’ free speech zone on Monday in an attempt to keep preacher Angela Cummings out of the space.
“We students don’t want (Cummings) here anymore,” UTC junior Taylor Ingro told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We’ve been asking students to come sit with us so she won’t be able to use the space.”
But Cummings preached anyway. Protected by UTC police and security guards, she told students that they were sinners who were going to hell.
Ingro is collecting signatures for an online petition to UT system President Joe DiPietro asking him to keep “verbally abusive” preachers from campus. About 3,000 people have signed it so far.
But UTC Chancellor Steve Angle said in a news release that the school has no legal basis for denying speakers access to the campus.
“Although the manner of the preacher’s presentation is offensive to many and causes strong responses, the freedom of expression so valued in this country requires enduring protected speech with which we disagree,” the statement reads.
Cummings is affiliated with another preacher who recently prevailed against UT-Knoxville in a free speech lawsuit. Cummings has a permit to speak on Heritage Plaza on Nov. 14, 15, 18, 19, 25 and 26.
Some students were upset over the arrest last Thursday of student Cole Montalvo. Online video shows a campus security officer stopping the 24-year-old biochemistry student and pushing him back as he tries to bike past an orange cone on the edge of the free speech zone.
Montalvo can be heard telling Cummings, “Hey ma’am. If you’re trying to spread the good word, maybe you shouldn’t be telling everyone they’re sinners.”
As he tries to talk to Cummings, a campus police officer comes over. The video shows Montalvo arguing with the officer, then turning around and attempting to leave before he’s taken down and arrested. UTC Police Sgt. Willie Trueitt charged him with disorderly conduct.