Mercer students, alumni split over choice of Founders' Day speaker

Some Mercer University alumni and students are expressing their displeasure at the university’s Founder’s Day address speaker.

The school announced on Jan. 24 that Dr. Jay Sekulow, chief of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), would be giving the Founders’ Day address on Feb. 7. 

Many students voiced concerns about Sekulow speaking. 

He graduated from Mercer University with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and went on to graduate from Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law. He is also part of President Trump’s legal team.

Sekulow has been known to speak out against LGBTQ rights.  

He has opposed allowing LGBTQ Boy Scout leaders and recently, along with the ACLJ, has supported the criminalization of homosexuality in countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe. 

“Mercer, I could not be more disappointed in this decision. I'm disgusted to call myself a Mercer bear. Myself and plenty of other students will be peacefully protesting if this man speaks on Founder's Day,” student Anna Lee wrote a comment on Mercer’s Facebook announcement.

The university’s Student Government Association released a statement addressing students’ concerns, as well as confirming Sekulow’s spot as speaker Wednesday.

“At this event, the guest speaker will share his Mercer experience and his time as a Bear, something we all have in common,” said the statement. “It’s important to keep in mind that Founders’ Day is not a political event, nor is the Student Government Association a political organization.”

The statement also said there may be a forum where students can speak freely on their beliefs with Sekulow. 

Some alumni and students have supported Mercer’s choice of Sekulow as speaker.

“I am thrilled to see that Mercer is bringing this quality speaker to campus and is willing to have all types of viewpoints represented by their speakers,” said Mercer alumna Cheryl Thompson in a Facebook comment. 

A petition organized by alumni was created on Jan. 26 asking to remove Sekulow as speaker.

Two student organizations, Fighting for Our Rights and Gender Equality (F.O.R.G.E.) and Common Ground are organizing a protest during his speech. 

In an open letter to the student body, the organizations encouraged students to protest in two different ways. 

The first form of protest is to skip Founders’ Day, and attend the 14th annual Building the Beloved Community Symposium being held on-campus at the same time as Founders’ Day. 

The second form of protest is to respectfully attend the Founders’ Day event wearing clothing representing marginalized groups or movements.

The Building the Beloved Community Symposium will feature Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah as the speaker, and he will be speaking on the topic of racial injustices. 

The organization's letter also outlined what it means to respectfully attend the event.

It stated, “students may not boo, hiss, yell, chant, bring posters/signs, etc. as these would cause disruption to the event and be disrespectful to the speaker.” 

They also stated students can refuse to clap or stand during the speech.

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