Four members of the Westboro Baptist Church will speak Monday to three Central Michigan University journalism classes taught by Prof. Timothy Boudreau.
“I try to bring [controversial speakers] in because students routinely claim to be great advocates of free speech,” the professor told me in a phone interview this afternoon. “This is a real test of their commitment to free expression.” (He had Pastor Terry Jones speak last semester.)
Boudreau, who also invited Westboro members speak in 2010, adds: “I think they’re way out there — they inhabit what I call the outer limits of the First Amendment — and I disagree with they say but I defend their right to say it.”
The group will be speaking to two sections of a Mass Communications in Contemporary Society class, and a Media Law class.
“A couple of student said they didn’t think the group deserved a forum or venue, and that they opposed them coming [to class]. I’ve given them the option of opting out and doing an alternate assignment.”
So far two students out of 150 have said they won’t attend.
His colleagues’ reaction to his Westboro speakers?
“The first time [they were invited] there may have been one or two or folks in the department who just questioned it. They weren’t opposed; they were just trying to figure it out. I don’t want to say I’m the resident rabble-rouser, but they know that this is what I do.”
What about protests?
“I was just talking with student newspaper editor about that. I haven’t heard much, but he thinks there will be some sort of protest. I’ve been asking my students, checking Facebook and that sort of thing, and the long and short of it is I’m not expecting a lot of noise.”
Campus security will be in his classes with the group speaks.
His thoughts on the group?
“Once they get off what I call their hate soapbox, they’re kind of normal people. They’re not unlikeable. It’s not as if they have horns and a tail.”
What’s the assignment?
“I don’t give them an actual assignment. I’ll give them a feedback sheet, then we’ll have what I call a debriefing session during Wednesday’s class.”
The school will not be paying the church members for their transportation or appearance, which will be live-streamed at 2 p.m. ET Monday by Central Michigan Life, the campus newspaper. (“The last time they insisted on paying for lunch with a couple of my students,” Boudreau told me. “They seem to have a lot of money.”)