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Tuesday, October 20, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 41

Staff Editorial

Letters to the Editor

About the Cougar

First Amendment protects everyone 

Kevin Pennell

  Sometimes threats to the First Amendment can come from the unlikeliest of places.

 In Amanda Mahmoudiis column ("Biblical bother?: Harassment doesnit make a
comfortable campus," Opinion, Oct. 15), she described an encounter she had with a religious person who invited her to a Bible study. Calling such incidents "harassment," Ms. Mahmoudi proposed that the Students' Association pass legislation to prevent UH students from being accosted by those who wish to save our souls.

 With all due respect to Ms. Mahmoudi, I find her position to be illogical, incomprehensible and, quite frankly, frightening.

 Fortunately for those of us who wish to retain our First Amendment rights to free speech, SA will probably not enact the legislation that Ms. Mahmoudi so fervently desires. In the five-and-a-half years that I've attended this university, the only thing that SA has ever done is ... uhm ... it, uh ... well, there was that time that it, uh ... ah ... voted on that bill to ... uhm ... change something or other ... and ... uhm ... well, when was the last time you went to the bathroom and found plenty of toilet paper? And you thought SA doesnit do anything!

 The fact that a fellow columnist is calling for censorship of those with whom she does not agree rubs me the wrong way.

 Now, I do agree that it is quite annoying to be hassled, harangued and harassed by those who feel that I've got a hot date with the devil after I die.

 But that doesn't mean that these people should be silenced by force of law, either. They have the First Amendment right to express their beliefs, and they're doing just that.

 Which is why the best way to deal with these people is to exercise your own constitutional rights to free speech. Here are a few examples:

  •  The Rude Approach: When a born-again Christian tries to proselytize you, ask him/her what happens if you don't convert. Allow him/her to wax poeticly on the torments of hell for a few minutes before asking, "Will you be there?" He/she will become flustered and say, "No, of course not!" Then say, "Well it can't be that bad!"

  •  The Food Approach: Offer to share your ham sandwich with a militant Muslim.

  •  The Mood Approach: Tell a Hindu or New Ager that you'll convert in your next life.

  •  The Prude Approach: Ask what the views of the religion are concerning sex, and, no matter the answer, say, "That's too decadent for me! What are you people, a bunch of perverts?!"

  • The Nude Approach: ask if the religion has fertility rituals, and if so, can the two of you perform a copulation ceremony?

 Finally, Amanda, I do not understand your statement that "this should be a safe, comfortable environment for all students." Do you consider words to be a threat to your safety? This is a college campus, a place where ideas should be exchanged freely, even those ideas that we may not like or agree with.

 And while I agree that it is irritating to be bombarded by religious rhetoric, it is the price we pay for the First Amendment. Would you care for the alternative? Do you really want to go to a university where all the students think the same and nobody dares to voice a dissenting opinion? As a writer, how can you call for the suppression of someone else's speech? Donit you realize that the same laws that forbid others' speech can also be applied to us as Daily Cougar columnists as well? Do you really want that?

 There are plenty of people who would be more than happy to take our constitutional rights away from us. Please, Amanda, I beg you -- let's not give them any help.

Pennell, a senior English major, 
can be reached at

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