Every student knows the voice. Nearly every day, it rings out near the entrance of Caesar Rodney Dining Hall, beckoning students to heed the call of Christ and take comfort and counsel in the word of the gospel, although perhaps not always put so gently. Some students stop to talk. Most just walk away. Despite this, the voice still rings every day, always accompanied by the infamous sign: “Will you get into heaven? Free test!”
The voice belongs to Hal Chaffee, a Maryland resident who found Jesus at the age of 16 and has since considered it his calling to spread the gospel to places beyond the church. Chaffee has been preaching at the university for three years, often accompanied by his friend, Mark, who has earned the nickname “Kirkbride Jesus” from many students.
“I think [the nickname] is great,” Chaffee said. “I think it’s an honor that people call him Jesus, you know? He’s the only Jesus that a lot of people see.”
The University of Delaware is not the only campus Chaffee visits. He also visits other schools within proximity to his home, including the University of Maryland.
Chaffee enjoys preaching outside of Caesar Rodney Dining Hall because he sees it as a hub of activity with a lot of potential for interaction. He is, however, upset about the fact that he is not allowed to preach on campus. He is forced to stay just outside campus lines and set up on Newark city property.
“One thing that’s kind of discouraging is that they don’t let us on campus, which I think is wrong because this is a public university and there should be freedom of speech on campus just like there is in other universities all over the United States,” Chaffee said. “For some reason, they have sort of loophole to keep us off campus, which is a shame.”
According to the Freedom Forum Institute, public universities have the right to ban certain types of speech from campus if they see it as fighting words or libel. However, speech that merely creates an unpleasant learning experience is not susceptible to regulation.
Chaffee has been told to exit campus property before, but harbors no ill will toward university police, calling them “gracious” people.
Freshman Madi Holt believes it is within Chaffee’s rights to preach to students as long as he complies with the university’s decision to keep him off campus.
“As long as it’s not disruptive to anyone, it doesn’t really matter, these students are just on their way to get lunch,” Holt said.
In addition to preaching, Chaffee runs a website on which he creates blog posts and videos informing people about the value of the gospel and giving them life advice based off the teachings of the Bible. Some of his blog posts include “How to Spank Your Kids the Right Way” and “Why You Shouldn’t Love Yourself.”
Chaffee’s presence is not without controversy among students. Some believe he can be belligerent, disrespectful and insensitive. Freshman Drew Donaghy, a biological science major, remembers one incident in particular where he believes Chaffee spoke without taste about the victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“[Chaffee] was talking about how you never know when life’s going to end and brought up ‘how do you think the people felt in those towers that morning?’” Donaghy said. “I have friends’ parents who died that day, I knew firefighters that died that day. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a right to say something like that, I just think he should be more thoughtful in the way he conveys his message.”
Chaffee is aware of the negative stigma he receives from students, but believes students make unfair assessments of what he is trying to do.
“I think people stereotype us,” Chaffee said. “They think we’re hateful and mean. Because of their preconceived ideas about us, they don’t come talk to us sometimes. But I’ve had a lot of students who will come talk to us and at first they’ll be very standoffish, but they’ll warm up to us after they just chat with us for a bit and see that we’re real people.”
Chaffee does, however, admit to being just a little weird.
“We are a little weird, I’m gonna grant that, but we’re not as weird as students probably think we are,” he said.