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October 14, 2009

Evangelist's preaching sparks campus protest

ONEONTA _ A Christian preached at the State University College at Oneonta to students who stood in a line for three hours Tuesday with their backs turned toward him.

SUNY Oneonta students organized a rally because they expected Jim Deferio, of Syracuse, to preach that Jesus Christ can save homosexuals.

But Tuesday, Deferio focused on an anti-abortion message as he quoted Scripture and held signs with graphic pictures.

Michelle Deferio, his 27-year-old daughter, joined him in talking about God, Jesus and Christ's mercy. The theme was different, she said, but the message about God's love was the same.

More than 60 students and others stood in the campus quadrangle in the 40-degree weather, and umbrellas opened during light rainfall. About 150 observers gathered in the first hour of the three-hour event.

Some protesters purposely wore headphones or earmuffs so that they wouldn't have to listen to Jim Deferio, said Crystal Hausler, a SUNY Oneonta senior and a member of Open Minded Unity, a gay-straight alliance on campus.

``We're just here to show not everybody believes what he says,'' said Hausler, of Poughquag, who is studying criminal justice. Any fundamentalist, any person, can take parts of the Bible and use them to a focused purpose, she said.

Karen Cutler, 28, a SUNY Oneonta junior, said students were ``pretty much offended'' by comments they considered racist, homophobic and sexist. Cutler, a dietetics major, said she stood in the rally line most of the three hours.

Jim Deferio told students that abortion doesn't ``solve any of society's problems,'' and that he doesn't support gay rights.

Student signs read: ``Love Is Love.'' ``Celebrate the Difference.'' ``Just Walk Away From Hate.'' ``God Created Rainbows.'' ``Freedom Is About Pro-choice.''

The first hour of Jim Deferio's visit Tuesday was unlike the evangelist's visit last year, when students shouted, chanted and stood close to the preacher. On Tuesday, a few hecklers stood in front of the preacher and his daughter and held signs, but the main line of students was silent and maintained a distance of more than 20 feet.

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