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Pit Preacher Gary Birdsong claims First Amendment rights

Gary Birdsong, often referred to as the "Pit Preacher" declared hateful speechery on Monday afternoon from the pit. The weather was lovely.
Gary Birdsong, often referred to as the "Pit Preacher" declared hateful speechery on Monday afternoon from the pit. The weather was lovely.

“God gave me the desire,” he said. “If you don’t have a desire, you can’t do it, especially on college campuses.”

Birdsong said he began preaching at UNC in the early 1980s. He has traveled to schools all over the nation, including nearby institutions like N.C. State University and Duke University.

Birdsong said before he was saved and began preaching, he spent time with members of “The Brotherhood” and “Hells Angels” biker clubs.

After his religious transformation, he attended Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas, and he visited Israel for a few months. He met Brother Jed Smock, who also preaches on college campuses, and started sharing his testimony as well.

Birdsong said he’s glad he has the protections under the First Amendment, but he wouldn’t stop preaching even if it weren’t allowed.

“I don’t care if I have it or not,” Birdsong said. “If God tells me to do it, I’ll do it.”

Freshman Bryan Labra said that Monday was his first time listening to Birdsong in the Pit. He said he thinks Birdsong should be allowed to preach on campus and that he does not abuse freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

“I don’t think he’s hurting anybody,” he said. “People have the choice to ignore him.”

Freshman JP Hussey said people can take Birdsong too seriously.

“I don’t think abusing (the First Amendment) is the right word — I think he takes it to its limits,” Hussey said.

But freshman Ashley Griffin said she thinks his comments may border on hate speech and verbal abuse.

“I think he should be allowed to preach,” she said. “But I think that some of what he says maybe should be limited. It’s not so much what he’s saying, it’s when he directly directs it at students. It kind of borders on harassment.”

Randy Young, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Birdsong was given a warning of trespass in 2007 for standing in front of a Carolina Adventures group display. He said the organization had reserved an area in the Pit.

“He was preaching in such a fashion that it infringed on others there,” Young said.

Birdsong could not preach in the Pit again until 2009 and moved his sermons to the steps of Wilson Library in response.

“They don’t have a right to come and get in my face and all when I have the First Amendment,” Birdsong said about the incident.

Griffin said her usual reactions to what he says are a mixture of disgust and amusement.

“I don’t agree with basically anything he says, and it’s amusing how outrageous the things he says are,” she said. “But ultimately, everything that comes out of his mouth is just vile.”

Birdsong said that he does not know when he will stop preaching and that he enjoys being at the University.

“The students don’t know, but they’re more calm than a lot of campuses. They’re more subdued. When you first come to a campus, they don’t know you ... But here, they’ve known me so long, I can step out, and I don’t have to try to get a crowd. Everyone comes running,” Birdsong said.

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“This campus is probably about the best campus for me to preach on.”