Evangelist preaching sparks student outcry

Two non-denominational Christian preachers calling for the repentance of gays attracted attention from hundreds of students on Tuesday, many of whom protested their presence.

Jim Deferio and his daughter Michelle, both from Syracuse, arrived on campus shortly before noon and remained on the college green for over five hours: finally leaving at 5:30 p.m. Jim Deferio held a sign proclaiming that gays have been healed through faith and touted Web sites including exhomosexuals.com and hopeforhomosexuals.com.

Large numbers of students crowded around the demonstrators, in some cases insulting and denouncing their message. Many were offended by Jim Deferio's often inflammatory comments, such as his denial that there is a biological basis for homosexuality.

"All sex out of marriage is a sin," Deferio said. "Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman." He claimed that homosexuals are 40 times more likely than heterosexuals to molest children, and declared John Lennon an "evil person."

According to Michelle Deferio, she and her father are not affiliated with and do not receive any support from outside organizations, and have no political goal. They have held similar demonstrations at other SUNY campuses, including a Sept. 11 appearance at Brockport. She said that different cultures struggle with different issues related to the teachings of God, and that she and her father focus on sexual immorality when at college campuses because it is most relevant for that audience. "I want people to have a real relationship with God," she said.

Many students were outraged at the Deferios. "These people are despicable, and shouldn't be allowed to do this," said senior Aaron Netsky.

"This man does not represent Jesus Christ," said Pastor Dave Seeley of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

Members of Pride Alliance were quick to organize and maintained a strong showing throughout the day, displaying banners and rallying against the demonstrators.

"We're not here to force them to leave," said junior Kai Davies, president of the club. "We're here to support queer rights on campus."

Although many students were distressed by the situation, neither the college nor police took any action to remove the Deferios. "There's nothing illegal going on here," said Lt. Michael Bovee of University Police at the scene.

According to Robert Bonfiglio, vice president for student and campus life, the Deferios called his office saying they wanted to come and "preach the Gospel." They were referred to the Office of Campus Scheduling and Special Events, which told them they could come as the campus is public property and free speech rights must be upheld.

"People have the right to come to campus and say things like they were saying," said Bonfiglio, noting that in the past, two SUNY campuses have been successfully sued for removing similar individuals. "The college does not have a right to ban them," he said. He advised that "the best response is not to give them an audience."

On Oct. 1, President Christopher Dahl issued an e-mail to members of the college community. In the e-mail, he said that, the two demonstrators are likely to return to Geneseo, as they have to other campuses.

"Though we may not be able to prevent their return, I call upon every member of our community to continue to support each other and to work to build and maintain a campus climate reflecting our deeply held values," Dahl said. "I commend the students and faculty who confronted the visitors and indicated, in a non-violent fashion, how unacceptable their views are in this community."

Mr. Deferio indicated that he and his daughter would, in fact, return to campus, though no specific date was given.