Robby Roberts, a community evangelist, told Clemson organization WeRoar in an interview that “God can use any [tool] to do what he wants”—even a laminated, 8x10 poster with the word “PRAYER” written across the front.
Roberts began staking out in Trustee Park a little over a week ago. With him, he brings two lawn chairs: one for himself, and on the the other, he places his sign. After he is settled in, Roberts prays. The evangelist said about 1000 students walk by him everyday and every once in a while, someone will stop, rest in the second lawn chair and the two will worship together. Although typically, he noted, his presence is ignored.
“Most of the time that I’m sitting there, they would look at the sign, they would look at me,” said Roberts, “people would give me looks that were clearly looks of affirmation, and other people … were much more indifferent.”
Monday, August 30, however, Roberts’s lawn-chair ministry did not go unnoticed.
Graduate student Kyra Palange said she sat down with Roberts around 3:15 and the two prayed together. They had just finished when they were approached by Clemson Assistant Director Shawn Jones. Jones told Roberts that he could not solicit prayer there without a permit because it was not a ‘designated free speech area.’ He presented Roberts with a form for the procedures for applying for ‘solicitation’ on campus.
“[He told me] ‘You can sit there as long as you want,” Roberts said, “but you can’t have this sign.’”
The sign took an act of prayer to an act of solicitation, which must be registered with the university.
Roberts said although Jones was respectful in his confrontation, Palange, who is a member of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), was upset. Palanage proceeded to follow Jones and filmed the Clemson official confirming the university policy.
Jones said that because Roberts was not a student, a university official, a faculty member or affiliated with the university in any way, he did not have the right to host prayer sessions in the park. If Roberts wanted to keep hosting the gatherings, he would have to fill out the solicitation form or move to a “free speech zone”—in front of the union or behind Hendrix.
“And by that you mean that there are free speech areas on campus, and that the entire campus is not a free speech area?” asked Palange.
Jones confirmed with a solid, “Yes.”
After YAF released the video, Clemson sent out an email Tuesday defending Jones and the university’s policy.
Vice President of Relations Mark Land said that students and school groups are never restricted to free speech zones for their expression. He further said that members from the external community—including Roberts—are welcome to pray on campus.
The difference was the “PRAYER” sign, which reportedly implied solicitation.
“Religious expression occurs regularly at Clemson, including in the many religious-based student organizations recognized by the university,” said Land. “Constitutional law does not make all areas of the Clemson campuses open to the public. Clemson has the right, and a legal obligation, to govern use of its facilities and space to ensure safety and to facilitate an effective learning environment.”
Last Friday, Clemson organization weRoar protested the university by gathering in the “non-designated free speech” Trustee Park for a public prayer rally. WeRoar started a #RallyforRobby hashtag movement and stood from 2-4 all with signs similar to Roberts’.
The group reported on their Facebook page that they were not confronted by any Clemson officials during the rally. They hope to have a dialogue with the university “in order to reform all Clemson policies that infringe on individual rights.”
Roberts himself attended the rally.
“I’m on board to [do] whatever needs to be done, to see the Church have the right place on Clemson campus—and that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year—that kids know that they have a place to go,” said Roberts, “that we have the right to express our religion.”