On April 24, Chris Peterman, a senior at Bob Jones University (BJU) was suspended nine days before his scheduled graduation because of his activity on Twitter and Facebook. He created a Facebook page titled “Do Right BJU” in an effort to create a safe space for victims of sexual abuse as a support network, as well as a place for outreach. Peterson’s personal motivation for creating the page was driven by his witnessing a church cover-up of sexual abuse.
Peterman organized a protest back in September to spread awareness but the dean of the private Protestant university told him to shut it down. Peterman did not, citing that his rights are protected under the First Amendment and the dean backed off. BJU even said they were planning on making a sexual abuse committee soon after the protest.
But things changed when Peterman returned for his final semester in January. He had to attend weekly counseling meetings and was intensely questioned about his Facebook page. The dean also went as far as to question Peterman’s friends about his social media use. Peterman’s online activity was being watched by the university.
At the beginning of April, he tweeted just before a church service that “this thing is 2hrs long?! What could they possibly talk about for so long!”. The school immediately came after him for tweeting during the service, punishing him with demerits that could ultimately affect his ability to graduate.
Just three weeks before his graduation, Peterman was once again called into the dean’s office after having watched an episode of Glee at an off-campus location. While watching TV is prohibited on-campus, that was not the reason for the dean’s questioning. The dean’s rationalization was that Peterman was watching a TV show that has homosexual relationships as well as debauchery behavior. Because of this, Peterman was given even more demerits and was almost prohibited from graduating.
The final straw came when Peterman posted lyrics to a Christian country song as his Facebook status. He received demerits for this and was officially over the allotted number of demerits that a student could have in order to graduate.
Peterman contacted local media and appealed that he should not be suspended for his watching of Glee off-campus; and, while the appeals board accepted his appeal (therefore allowing him to graduate), the dean was angered and forced Peterman off-campus. Peterman was practically dragged off campus by BJU police forces and was told that he would be arrested if he tried to return.
Ultimately, Peterman cannot graduate in his final semester at BJU. But, it wasn’t so much about all the social media activities that Peterman was suspended for; it was about his speaking out about sexual abuse on a Christian campus.
This incident does not generalize all schools with a religious focus as being strict with freedom of speech, but it does show the lengths that one school will go to throw a student under the bus and save their reputation, which, in the end, did not save their reputation at all.
Social media is about the user and is a free-forum for expression. After being censored by his university, Peterman had a right to get the media involved and appropriately did so. There is no excuse for what BJU did to Peterman, and they should be exposed for banning one student who showed an interest in peaceful activism.
More information at check out the story at CNN.com