Last week, Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) caved to student pressure regarding Seth Dillon, an alumnus and the CEO of the Christian satire site The Babylon Bee. PBA had invited Dillon to speak in a chapel service on September 30, but after students complained about someone with his political views speaking in chapel, the college booted him from the “sacred space.” Dillon has condemned PBA for caving to “cancel culture,” but PBA has insisted that it is not a “cancel culture” university.
“It’s significant that they moved me out of the chapel because that’s precisely what the cancel mob was calling for,” Dillon told PJ Media. “Students (and other instigators, including one ex-employee of the university) complained that I was the wrong choice for a chapel session because I’m divisive, racist, homophobic, etc. The chapel, as a ‘sacred space,’ should be insulated from the likes of me.”
Critics had seized on Dillon’s tweet calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization.”
“Hey [Palm Beach Atlantic] is this really who you chose to come speak in chapel on campus on family weekend?” Isom Rigell, an area coordinator at PBA, tweeted. “Advocating that openly inflammatory people like Seth don’t have the chance to speak in sacred spiritual places isn’t negative. It’s right. Like I said, invite him to speak at a business meeting you won’t hear a peep from me,” Rigell added.
Isabelle Runge, a PBA graduate, encouraged PBA students and graduates to reach out to Bernard Cueto, the campus pastor. “If this individual was coming to speak at a club or special interest group, that would be fine. but to have such a strong and angry side of conservatism given the stage in CHAPEL is not what I believed that hour of praising Christ was intended to be,” she tweeted.
Melody Faith, a PBA student who will graduate next year, also responded to the Black Lives Matter tweet. “This should be enough reason to not welcome [Seth Dillon] to our campus,” she tweeted. “Not to mention that every LGBTQ student has been disrespected and degraded by his content.” (While the Babylon Bee mocks radical LGBT activism, it also mocks Christians of all stripes.)
Dillon took to Twitter to respond to these attacks. “Cancel culture has come for me. I’m just too dangerous and divisive to be permitted to speak on the campus of my alma mater,” he wrote. “Since when do you have to support terrorist organizations that use violence and intimidation to advance their agenda to be welcome on a Christian campus?”
Kellie Barbato, a librarian who worked at PBA between September 2017 and May 2020, responded to Dillon. “I think it’s more about the fact that you are speaking in chapel, which is supposed to be a sacred space. Are you planning on giving a sermon of some kind?” she tweeted.
I think it’s more about the fact that you are speaking in chapel, which is supposed to be a sacred space. Are you planning on giving a sermon of some kind?
— Kellie (@kelliecbarbato) September 29, 2020
Dillon sent PJ Media the program for the event, which focused on Dillon’s time at PBA, his experience rising to become CEO of the Babylon Bee, and his approach to Christianity and humor. Not every chapel event is a sermon of some kind — students must attend a certain number of chapel events to graduate, including events like this one.
The university caved. Dillon sent PJ Media an email in which a university official explained the situation to one of the angry instigators. “We anticipated that an honest conversation like this could become passionate, and that emotions may run high. We did not want to compromise the sacredness of a chapel gathering, and, after heated exchanges on social media, it was decided that the Lassiter Rotunda of the Warren Library would be a more suitable venue for Mr. Dillon,” the official wrote. “PBA did not rescind his invitation to speak on campus; we simply notified Mr. Dillon of the venue change.”
Even so, the vocal critics celebrated PBA’s decision to boot Dillon from the chapel. “Hate is never welcome in our chapel space. Jesus would look upon [Seth Dillon] transphobic, racist, and homophobic content and weep at the hate targeting his children,” Melody Faith tweeted. “UPDATE: PBA said hate isn’t welcome. [Dillon] is no longer speaking in our chapel. Thank you [PBA].”
— Melody Faith (@melodyfaithy) September 29, 2020
“The university responded by contacting me to parrot the same lines as the mob — they said the chapel was sacred, and therefore not an appropriate venue for me,” the PBA alumnus told PJ Media. “They put this in writing to a faculty member, as well. They did not cite my political views as being problematic. Rather, they expressed a fear that the contentious discussion on Twitter would somehow bleed into my chapel talk.”
“It’s pretty uncharitable to assume this,” Dillon remarked. “And they could have, of course, called me to talk to me about it, giving me the opportunity to assuage their concerns. But they never did.”
“Clearly, they wanted to try and appease both the mob and myself by canceling the chapel talk without canceling my speaking engagement entirely,” he explained. Moving it to another location (the library, of all places) was supposed to make everyone happy.”
Dillon refused to speak, asking the university to stand up against cancel culture.
“I don’t want to speak at a university that’s so eager to appease an angry Twitter mob,” Dillon explained. “And I certainly don’t feel welcome anywhere on their campus if I’m not welcome in their chapel. So I declined their offer to speak in the library.”
The Babylon Bee CEO defended his withdrawal as “an appropriate response to [PBA’s] cowardice and condescension. The only overreaction was the university’s response to a few dozen angry emails from current students and former employees.”
Dillon’s alma mater has apologized to him, but that is not enough for him.
“PBA has apologized to me privately for how they handled this and said they wanted to make it right. But the way to make it right is to have my back publicly and stand up to the mob,” he explained. “They didn’t do that, and now the mob will only be more energized and emboldened the next time around.”
A university spokeswoman insisted that PBA is not a “cancel culture” university.
“Palm Beach Atlantic University is not a ‘cancel culture’ university,” Sarah Peters, a multimedia writer and editor at PBA, told PJ Media. “Mr. Dillon’s venue was changed to offer more interaction with students, not less. As a Christian university, we believe in listening respectfully, even when we don’t agree with everything that a speaker may say.”
“By not cancelling Seth, and simply moving the venue, we were supporting one of our most innovative alumni. It is regretful that this change in venue has been framed otherwise,” Peters argued.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.