Religious protester sparks student outrage, UPD called

Jacob Boyko, News Editor

The University Police Department was busy Thursday and Friday last week when students gathered to protest a traveling preacher with a fire and brimstone message.

The preacher, Daniel John Lee, arrived on campus Thursday morning carrying a picket sign listing sins that he said sends many people, even followers of Christ, to Hell. The list included: Sodomites, homosexuals, lesbians, porno freaks, drunkards, pot heads, fornicators, liars, thieves, hypocrites, idolaters, masturbators, Muslims, gossips, athiests and baby murderers. 

“I used to do a lot of these sins, but I repented,” Lee told the crowd. 

Lee calls himself a traveling preacher from Juneau, Alaska, and identifies as an Evangelist Messianic Jew, which is a modern movement of Protestant Christianity. Equipped with a bull horn, Lee read from the Bible and engaged in heated debate with students. It wasn’t long before a crowd gathered, but not everybody was amused. 

“I think he’s just here to get attention and yell at people,” one SDSU student in the crowd said. 

Throughout Lee’s time at SDSU, he stood in front of a crowd of mostly-silent supporters and more outspoken protestors. Students improvised humorous signs to mock Lee, but he mostly ignored the hecklers. 

Lee also drew the ire of the crowd when he told some students to “go back to” their assumed home countries. 

The demonstration remained mostly calm until Sarker Ahtef, an international student from Bangladesh, splashed his drink on the sign Lee was holding after Lee called Allah, the Muslim diety, “the devil.” 

“I’m not against Christianity at all,” Ahtef said. “He’s against homosexuals, he’s against lesbians and he’s against idolaters. He even said my religion’s god, Allah, is evil. I’m not fighting just for my religion only, I’m fighting for Hindus whom he targeted as idolaters. Hindus, Buddhists and some other religions who believe in idols, those people come under the category of idolaters.”

Ahtef later grabbed Lee’s sign and ran toward the Student Union with it. Lee repeatedly yelled “call the police” to the crowd, but Ahtef was tackled seconds later by an SDSU freshman who asked to remain anonymous. The student who halted Ahtef returned the sign to Lee and UPD arrived shortly after to respond to the situation. 

“I think everyone has freedom of speech,” the student who returned the sign said. “As long as he had registered to be here and has permission to be out here, he should.”

Ahtef has a different view. 

“If he wants to preach, that’s fine. He can say follow Christianity, follow Jesus, but he can’t speak about other religions and homosexuals,” Ahtef said.

No charges were filed by either party, according to UPD’s Chief of Safety and Security, Timothy Heaton. 

UPD Officer Lipinski responded to the scene.

“He has a right to free speech,” Lipinski told members of the crowd who gathered around him. “But at what time does something need to be shut down because it’s a danger?” 

Lee was encouraged to leave campus for his and the crowd’s safety and to return Friday with a permit. 

UPD used the overnight break in the preaching to plan for Friday. 

“We knew he was going to be there Friday and we had two officers there,” Heaton said. “If we know something like this is going to happen, we can prepare for what’s going on. If we don’t know, we can’t prepare, and sometimes it can be too late.”

Although he has no known religious schooling, Lee preaches to cruise ships coming into the Juneau port during the summer and beginning this year, has started traveling the lower 48 states to preach to university students. 

“I’ve been preaching all of my life,” Lee said. “But in terms of traveling, I just started in July.”

Lee started in Indiana, then went to Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, and most recently, North Dakota. His next stop is Montana.

Lee has received a mixed-reaction on campuses. Earlier in the week, Lee had spent two days at University of South Dakota in Vermillion where he said he was threatened with assault. Still, he maintained he’s never experienced anything like what happened in Brookings.

“For most of the day, the crowd was civil and calm,” Lee said. “Everything was going well and I probably would have stayed out there until four or five o’clock. It wasn’t until the Muslim stole my sign and the police came that we had to shut everything down. That really surprised me.”

Arthur James Murphy is an associate professor of religion at SDSU specializing in Biblical Studies. He had concerns with the message Lee was preaching. 

“If you’re talking about the mainstream or progressive branches of Christianity or Judaism today, they’ll often talk about loving your neighbor as yourself and to treat them as yourself,” Murphy said. 

According to Murphy, while the Old Testament law codes contain strict teachings, not everything is tied to human sexuality; the Bible teaches one must extend mercy onto their neighbors. 

Murphy said much of Lee’s list, especially those relating to sex, tend to echo the larger concerns among more conservative Christians today.

Lee posts full-length bodycam videos of his campus visits, including his two days at SDSU, on his Rumble page, Dnajlion7, where he posts videos relating to his faith and criticizes the American government, including current President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. To his internet followers, he’s performing a divine service and facing persecution is only natural.

“I hope students will humble themselves and place their faith in Christ,” Lee said. “Even if not a single person turns to the truth, I still look at what I’ve done as successful because my responsibility is to go out and preach the biblical truth.”

However, Murphy disagrees with the way Lee went about his preaching and doubts it resonated with students the way Lee intended. 

“Typically, when someone shows up to do that kind of sidewalk fire-and-brimstone kind of judgment, it is more about making themself feel good and making themself feel like they are doing a noble thing,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t really lead to changes in mind, and it only creates bad outcomes for both sides.” 

The University’s Campus Communications sent an email to all students and staff Friday about its commitment to freedom of speech, even if the speech doesn’t represent the views of the university.

“Freedom of expression includes the right to discuss and present opinions and conclusions on all matters both in and outside the classroom without institutional discipline or restraint,” the email read.