Preacher at UT ticketed for offensive speech

A preacher was ticketed by a University of Texas police officer for disorderly conduct because what he was speaking about offended a student there.

Brother Jed Smock, who leads the Campus Ministry USA, said he has been coming to the University of Texas at Austin to share his message for 40 years.

“We preach against sin, we preach against their sexual immorality and drunkenness and call people to faith,” Smock said. 

Tuesday, UT police ticketed an intern with the evangelical ministry, which travels to college campuses preaching to students.

The preacher, Brother Joshua Borchert, was standing just off campus and recorded his interaction with police. In the video police tell him it was illegal for him to offend students.

“Any speech, if it has any substance at all, is bound to offend someone. And the First Amendment is there to protect offensive speech. Speech that is not offensive does not need protection,” said Smock. 

UT Police Chief David Carter apologized the next day and voided the ticket agreeing that even offensive speech is protected by the US Constitution.

“Unfortunately, we issued a citation for disorderly conduct by language and it was very clear that that was, when it came to our attention, that that would be a violation of someone's First Amendment rights,” Carter said. 

Friday, Brother Jed and Brother Joshua returned to the edge of the UT campus.

Carter said the police have an obligation to protect everyone's First Amendment rights even if it seems offensive to others, but what they won't tolerate is threats of violence.

“We're going to do everything within our power to protect individuals or students, in other words keep them safe from harm, but the one thing that we clearly can't do is we can't protect their sensibilities. We're guided by the US Constitution and we're obligated to follow that,” said Carter. 

Carter said the officer who wrote the ticket is still in training. He plans to use this situation to talk to the entire department about how Constitutional laws override state laws.

“The last thing that you want is the police to go in and decide what's offensive or not offensive,” said Carter. 

That means Brother Jed and his ministry will get to preach to UT students for years to come, whether they like it or not.

The Campus Ministry USA is not allowed to preach on campus because the campus is restricted for business of the university, but even if the ministry was on campus, they would likely be asked to leave and maybe charged with trespassing if they refused. It would not warrant a disorderly conduct charge.

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