Protesters from a Philadelphia religious group stood behind a barricade outside the Chamberlain Student Center where they spewed hate-filled words while holding “Jesus is hellfire” signs.
Pastor Aden Rusfeldt is the leader of the group. His wife Mary was also there along with two of his youngest daughters. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rusfeldt and his company were sued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Texas in 2007 for defrauding clients, and in a settlement he was barred from giving financial advice and ordered to pay $1.9 million.
Robert Zazzali, the university’s senior vice president for administration who oversees public safety, clarified the group’s rights.
“This is a group that has come to campus to express their views. It’s exercising their free speech. Whether we agree with it or not, we have no legal obligation to prohibit them from campus,” Zazzali said.
Less than a hundred students joined in an anti-protest in the 60-degree weather. LGBTQ+ flags draped some shoulders. People played music using guitars, trombones and a boombox. One person even wore a Jesus costume while holding a “this ain’t it” sign pointing towards Rusfeldt’s group.
At one point, there was even a conga line of students. It felt like a party full of love standing in juxtaposition to the nearby hate group.
Other signs by students included ones demanding to fix Rowan’s Wi-Fi, signs promoting Bernie Sanders’ campaign and signs hoping to “legalize cocaine.”
The religious group from the Key of David Christian Center held other signs that read “the head of the woman is the man,” “God hates the people in hell,” and “women belong in the kitchen.” They also had cameras set up to use as evidence if they were to be injured by counter-protesters.
“Groups have a right to come to campus, register, and set up and express their views however distasteful people find them. We are here to make sure no one gets hurt,” Zazzali said.
Zazzali notes that there are different student life groups available to students. Groups like Prism, Queer People of Color Collective and Out in STEM are examples of LGBTQ+ groups at Rowan that provide a safe place for students.
At Rowan University, love trumps hate, and student activism prevails over hate speech.
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