Photo by: Dayne Francis
Photo by: Dayne Francis
Photo by: Dayne Francis
Photo by: Jason Luong
From Oct. 7-9, a “Christian” group called SOAPA thrusted picket signs, pointed fingers and yelled against religions, drunkenness, gender rights and sexualities in Library Plaza. Now, students are fighting back with signatures to make plaza only available to Georgia State community.
SOAPA (Street and Open Air Preachers of America), which is a worldwide organization, travelled from Virginia to Georgia State with the goal of getting “people to stick with the Bible,” according to Brother Ben, a SOAPA member.
“Georgia State happens to be one of the best campuses in the southeast for open air preaching because of this stage,” he said. “We come down in here, because of the students who get packed in.”
SOAPA believes they are doing the student body justice by choosing to protest our campus, according to Brother Ruben Israel, founder of SOAPA.
“We’re not here to push a religion, we’re here to encourage people to read the Bible. Let me tell you guys, if we had a little table over here, people would walk right by us and not see us. We’re doing this for a reason. After 35 years, I’ve come in contact with a ton of students that still remember us on their campus, and now they’re Christian,” Israel said.
The petition to make plaza private
James Simpson, Georgia State student, created a petition on Oct. 8 to remove the “Christian” group from campus, to make Library Plaza only available for Georgia State organizations and to increase students’ safety from intruders, according to the petition’s change.org page.
“Mainly the petition is to make sure that the plaza is ours,” he said.
Since Thursday, the petition has gained 2,873 supporters and counting as of Oct. 14, with some signers being Georgia State alumni, students and prospective students.
Simpson said he created the request, because one of the SOAPA members degraded his mother.
“He does not have any right to do [that]. He doesn’t know my mother. He has no right to call my mother a whore,” he said.
After Simpson’s petition receives 2,000 signatures, he plans to bring the document to President Mark Becker.
“I plan to go to President Becker and print out all the signatures and distinguish comments on physical abuse,” he said. “I think the case would mainly be against those who have been physically abused by those people.”
However, Director of Georgia State’s Student Center Boyd Beckwith said “as a public university, Georgia State is required to have a ‘free speech zone,’ more information on this subject can be found within the Student Code of Conduct.”
Marika Dundas, a Muslim student with a Christian and Rastafarian family background, confronted a group member, but removed herself from the situation shortly before the person began to get aggressive.
“I believe that freedom of speech is not freedom for hatred or bigotry and it certainly doesn’t protect you from their consequences,” Marika said. “I’m glad that we disrupted them. They didn’t know how to handle us; doing nothing is what encouraged their behavior and this was us (the student body) taking back our campus, I’m proud of the love and unity we displayed today.”
He said people feel strongly against the group, but think the group is allowed there because of freedom of speech.
“I think there is limitations when everyone feels like they are being threatened by these people, and I feel like the students feel strongly,” he said.
Since Georgia State is a public university, areas within its campus is open to the public, according to Brenda Trezvant, Administrative Assistant in the University System of Georgia’s Office of Communications.
Brother Israel considers Georgia State’s plaza to be an excellent location for his protesting due to it’s stage. Principally, it is public property. In regards to the matter, Israel stated, “as a taxpayer I own this stage.”
Organizations unaffiliated with Georgia State may reserve space at Georgia State, according to Georgia State’s website.
Words can hurt
On Wednesday, Maleeha Shakoor, a Muslim student of Asian and Pakistani descent, had a one-on-one conversation with a SOAPA member who clutched a sign labeling Prophet Muhammad a liar and child molester.
“He asked me how old Aisha was when she married Mohammed, his argument was that Mohammed was a pervert; however, that was the norm during that time,” Shakoor said. “He also told me that Muslims are taught to blend into society do things such as attend college when they’re really just planning on bombing people.”
Fatoumata Bah, a Muslim student of African descent, also talked to a SOAPA member; she asked him why he believed all Muslims were destined to go to hell.
“He replied by saying that Islam is a religion where all Muslims chop off other people’s heads, and once I told him that I’m Muslim and that I do not do that, he told me that I’m a bad Muslim then,” Bah said.
SOAPA visits Georgia State every year and planned to visit Kennesaw State University last Saturday, Brother Ben said.
“It’s their first homecoming game up in Marietta man. We’re gonna hit that KSU crowd, all these banners, and all those Cobb County boys, those rednecks, they’re gonna be coming like glue and we’re gonna lay it on em,” he said.