Campus Preacher Argues In Lawsuit That He Wasn’t Trying to Convert Anyone

The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (a public school) has a policy when it comes to outsiders on their campus. If people want to sell something to students (say, a credit card or test-prep course), they have to pay a $50 fee and remain within a certain area.

Mark Gavin, a preacher who proselytizes on campus, thinks those rules don’t apply to him. He doesn’t think he should have to pay the $50 fee or remain situated in one space. So the Center for Religious Expression filed a lawsuit on his behalf… and their justification for why he shouldn’t have to pay anything gets a little weird:

Mark Gavin

The lawsuit argues the university wrongfully treated religious speech as commercial speech when Gavin attempted to set up on campus in 2010 and 2011. It says Gavin does not solicit donations or seek conversion from people he encounters.

I totally believe he’s not trying to make money.

But, c’mon, conversion isn’t part of his goal? At all?!

If he’s not out there to convert, why is he there? Is he just a troll, out there just to annoy people? Maybe he’s just looking for someone to debate him (in which case, I’m sure local atheists will take him up on his offer).

Oh! I got it. He’s lonely because he clearly has nothing better to do with his life and he just wants to make friends.

Someone please go be Mark’s friend so he stops bothering everyone else on campus who don’t want to hear his tripe.

(Thanks to Amanda for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Aaron

    He’s selling something, so he should have to pay, just like everyone else. Pretty clear-cut case. I feel sorry for the judge. What a waste of time!

  • jdm8

    Sounds like he wants the best parts of opposing positions, at the same time. There are colorful words for that.

  • DougI

    Another case of a Christian demanding special rights.

  • Annie

    In the article linked above, it states  “The lawsuit stresses that the areas where Gavin wants to speak – the
    Quad and the grassy area in front of the Surbeck Center – are uniquely
    suitable for his expression, appearing and functioning like public
    parks,” representatives from the Center for Religious Expression said in
    a statement.

    But it is not a public park.  I hope the judge will ask exactly what does Gavin mean by “expression.”

    On another note, the comments on the article above are quite refreshing.  Several are from students and they have no interest in having this man “express” himself on their campus.

  • A3Kr0n

    Mark would probably make a very good friend, and think of the debates!

  • Cat’s Staff

    I hate to help him out here…  He may find that Watchtower Society v. Village of Stratton will apply.  I’m sure he’ll thank the  Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It might depend on how the park is marked.  Does it appear to be a public area, or something a reasonable person would think is inside campus.  Also, would standing in the middle of it preaching and trying to convert people (which freedom of religious expression should allow him to do, I don’t know why he was saying he didn’t want to do that), would that cause “disruption of institutional uses of the facilities or grounds”…could he be heard inside a building and would it disrupt class?

    On June 17, 2002, the Court ruled in an 8–1 decision that the requirement of the Village of Stratton’s ordinance for solicitors to “register” before engaging in door-to-door advocacy violated the First Amendment. The Court stated “it is offensive, not only to the values protected by the First Amendment, but to the very notion of a free society, that in the context of everyday public discourse a citizen must first inform the government of her desire to speak to her neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so.” The Supreme Court did not address the remaining provisions of the ordinance, which remain valid and legally enforceable.

    Not that I agree with what he has to say…but if I was to bet on the outcome of the case, I might have to put my money on him winning in the end.

  • Christopher Buchholz

    wow that is weird, if it’s not commercial speech, then what is to stop the school from punishing anyone that lives off campus and just talks to people? Say friends who dropped out of school, hang out on the quad with other friends, and get into a discussion about religion. Can that person be forced to pay the fee?

    I am not sure a fee that seems pretty obviously applied to commerce can or even should be applied to other speech. We sometimes call schools a “marketplace of ideas” but that is supposed to be metaphor, not literal.

  • Chas

    Brand campaigns don’t always include directed commerce. Putting up a big Coke banner on campus would seem to OK under the lawsuit’s argument. 

  • Michael Koch

    Geebus does have many Liars working for him…..  I guess it comes with the territtory…

  • WoodyTanaka

    What’s wrong with these people that think they have the right to interrupt other people as they’re going about their lives with this silly religious garbage.  They should keep it in their homes and churches.

  • Heidi

    I would venture to guess that it’s obvious that the campus Quad, at least, is part of the campus.

  • GwydionFrost

    So charge him with LOITERING.

  • HughInAz

    Plus littering, for spreading his intellectual toxic waste.

  • Godlesspanther

    OK — so he’s not selling anything, he has no intention of converting anyone, he is not trying to persuade anyone to think about things in any particular Way. Then what is he doing there? 

    OH!!!! Now I get it — it’s performance art!

  • Leo Buzalsky

     I will back up Heidi.  As an alumnus, it is quite obvious that the Quad and Surbeck Center are part of campus.

  • Leo Buzalsky

    That’s interesting…the article says this guy made his attempts in ’10 and ’11.  I seem to recall rumors about a preacher being escorted off of campus by security for not following these rules when I went there, and I graduated way back in ’07.  (Do any of my fellow classmates remember any such incident, or am I imagining things?)

  • Leo Buzalsky

    The Quad may have some similarities to a park (good memories of playing ultimate Frisbee there), but it’s really there for student use.  It’s not something that is supposed to be open to the general public like a park.  The fact that it is surrounded by campus buildings and that the parking lots near by are mostly for students and staff only should give this away.

    Otherwise, I am pleased by the comments.  I went there only 5 years ago and, while I had a number of atheist classmates, I also knew many who were deeply religious.  (About time SDSM&T gets an SSA chapter!  Just sayin’.)

  • David Starner

     Some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cases are a little frustrating. I’m more comfortable permitting the preacher to preach in this case, but at least historically (and apparently still in 2002) the Jehovah’s Witnesses got really intrusive. People have some right not to be bothered in their houses.

  • Chak 47

    He may be telling the truth about not trying to convert.  Some religious think that Jesus just wants them to preach, and let others decide whether it’s true. 

    IOW, he’s testifying.  Whether anybody hears it or listens to it is irrelevant. 

    At least, that’s how Westboro Baptist Church looks at it.  

  • Cat’s Staff

    I looked at satellite pictures of campus. It looks pretty open, in terms of walking in off the public street onto the public campus. Are there any signs posted?  It may be part of campus, but it’s a public college.  And college is usually where you have adults who don’t need to be protected from predatory proselytizers like in elementary and secondary schools.  How is he any different then Brother Jed or any of those kind of people?

    I guess one thing I’m not sure about from this…by ‘set up on campus’…was he setting up a table where there shouldn’t have been one?  Or was he just standing around?  If he set anything up, they could say that was blocking traffic, or causing a nuisance, or even claim that by ‘setting up’ on campus it had the appearance that the school was endorsing his set up and they didn’t want to have that appearance.

  • Deven Kale

    A case could easily be made that preaching is a form of commercial speech, in that the preacher is attempting to get listeners to join a church, which would quite likely lead to increased income for that church.

    After all, it’s not exactly a secret anymore that churches are little more than businesses that sell philosophy/theology to it’s members anyway.

  • Camorris

    I think it would be amusing if a campus SSA group would test one of these preacher’s tolerance by surrounding him (or her) and frequently exhibit mocking reverence. How about every time they utter a trigger word or phrase the group goes into an exaggerated outburst of “praise Jeebus” or something similar. How about surrounding him (at a non threatening distance) and prostrate in unison in the manner of the Muslim worship.

    Any thoughts?

  • JBC

    First, you make them keep it in their homes.

    Second, you come after them in their homes.

    Third, you put them in camps.

    Fourth, you eliminate the waste.

  • MikeTheInfidel

    Right. 2-4 definitely follow logically, you nut.

  • drmattern

    He can sit at a table in the Surbeck center.  Religion-based STUDENT ASSOCIATIONS don’t set up shop in the Quad.  What makes this guy think he should get to?

  • Gunstargreen

    If you’re not trying to convert anyone then please stop wasting your and everyone else’s time.

  • Amanda

    Black Hills State University (in Spearfish, SD) has and SSA chapter now at least. Rapid City has a group called the “Black Hills Free Thinkers”. I hope that SDSM&T gets an SSA soon!

  • No

    Ah, Undeserved Privilege, how you do so make an ass of yourself in public…

  • Baal

     This is the relevant detail I was missing.  If the Qaud is otherwise a no booths / advertising space, then this guy doesn’t belong as he’s not just a random guy talking to a few random people.  He is acting as a spokesperson then he needs to follow those rules.  It strains credulity to assert that his is preaching is closer to 2 people talking on a walk between classes than a group’s advocacy booth.