Preacher Keith Darrell returns to EWU campus

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Preacher Keith Darrell returns to EWU campus

EWU police officer Greg Karlis talks to Keith Darrell outside the PUB. Darrell was on campus to preach to students about religion.

EWU police officer Greg Karlis talks to Keith Darrell outside the PUB. Darrell was on campus to preach to students about religion.

Drew Lawson

EWU police officer Greg Karlis talks to Keith Darrell outside the PUB. Darrell was on campus to preach to students about religion.

Drew Lawson

Drew Lawson

EWU police officer Greg Karlis talks to Keith Darrell outside the PUB. Darrell was on campus to preach to students about religion.

By Jeremy Burnham, Managing Editor

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Editor’s note: This story has been edited on April 30 to include quotes from EWU police Lieutenant Sean O’Laughlin to clarify EWU’s policy regarding free speech activities on campus. 

Preacher Keith Darrell, who travels the northwest to demonstrate on campuses, returned to EWU on Wednesday, drawing a crowd outside the PUB. The controversial figure brought his usual message to students, including his thoughts on religion, abortion and pornography.

EWU police approached the crowd and momentarily stopped the conversation Darrell was having with students. Officer Greg Karlis told Darrell that demonstrating where he was is against campus policy and that he had to move to the university’s designated zone. Darell could be heard yelling “Arrest me then!”

Students could be heard saying they wanted to continue talking with Darrell. Karlis withdrew.

Drew Lawson
Students gather as Keith Darrell preaches in front of the PUB. Police were nearby in case the gathering turned violent.

As Darrell continued his demonstration, Karlis spoke with The Easterner. On his phone, he pulled up code WAC 172-141, a policy on outdoor areas for First Amendment activities. He said Darrell does have a right to demonstrate on campus, but it has to be done within the approved zones. However, he said his commanding officers decided to let Darrell continue as long as he did not become violent.

“Our chain of command has decided to let it go on for now,” Karlis said. “Deputy Chief (Jay) Day said to allow him to continue. We are just here to make sure it stays safe.”

On close reading of the policy in question, The Easterner found no mention of free speech zones. The Easterner reached out to EWU police Lieutenant Sean O’Laughlin for clarification. O’Laughlin said that Karlis was referring to an old version of the code and confirmed that the current policy does not mention zones. He said he went over the correct policy with Karlis.

O’Laughlin did point to a part of the policy that reads, “If an activity is likely to attract one hundred or more attendees or counter-protestors, individuals and groups are required to contact university police at 509-359-4021 at least three days in advance of the activity.”

O’Laughlin added that it is likely Darrell did not expect to have over 100 people in attendance because typically he has a smaller group. He said if Darrell follows rules in the policy, he’ll be allowed to return to the same location.

“Honestly, it was a good discussion between students and him,” O’Laughlin said. “There were disagreements, different views and different opinions. That’s what a university should be about: A good debate where people can explain their different views … That’s fine. We’re just there to keep the peace.”

While students argued with Darrell and taunted him at times, the scene remained mostly civil. When Darrell criticized individual people and groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community,  students were quick to vocalize their support for those he criticized.

One student who engaged in a spirited back-and-forth with Darrell was “Jane,” a freshman. She told The Easterner she wished to remain anonymous. At one point, Darrell was talking about sex before marriage and abortion.

“What you people want is sex without responsibility,” Darrell shouted at the crowd. “Guess what the great thing is if you knock her up? You’re just going to kill the baby.”

After Darrell told the crowd that he believes there are no acceptable conditions for abortion, “Jane” challenged him as students cheered her on.

Afterwards, “Jane” talked to The Easterner.

“He was saying that abortion is never OK, and I asked, ‘what if the woman was raped,’” Jane said. “Do you want her to live with that trauma remembering and experiencing the rape?”

Darrell replied that even in the case of rape, he is still against abortion.

Jane said she left after a few minutes because she found the situation and Darrell’s response upsetting. However, she said she supported Darrell’s right to be there.

“I like hearing other views,” Jane said. “I believe that he has the right to say what he feels and believes. The police offered the option of moving him, but honestly, all of us (students) would have followed. We were invested in the conversation.”

Other students expressed similar thoughts. Every student The Easterner talked to said they disagreed with Darrell’s message, but supported his right to express it.

“As long as it stays peaceful, I don’t see any problems with it,” freshman Ian Harcus said. “His views don’t go hand in hand with my personal beliefs, but it’s cool to hear someone else’s perspectives.”

“I don’t agree with anything he has to say at all,” freshman Lucas Smith said. “But I enjoy spending the time outside, just the same, and hearing what he has to say.”

“I think it’s good to have a discussion out of nowhere,” said freshman Troy Ruffin.

The Easterner’s Michael Brock and Drew Lawson contributed to this report.

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