A Christian newspaper editor from an Indiana university is speaking out after she says she was fired from her position for offering sandwiches to street preachers on campus.
Nicole DeCriscio, formerly the editor-in-chief of The DePauw newspaper at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, says she was "suspended" from her position at the publication last fall after giving sandwiches and drinks to controversial street preachers on her campus.
The incident began last year, when street preachers with signs that read "you deserve hell" and other charged statements relating to sexual promiscuity and alcohol consumption began to appear at the university.
The presence of the street preachers, who were affiliated with The Campus Ministry USA group, led to small protests on campus among students who took offense to the signs.
The DePauw newspaper reported on the street preachers multiple times, and eventually the religious group left the campus.
DeCriscio now argues that what caused her to lose her position as editor-in-chief at the paper last October was an op-ed she wrote about the preachers titled "Why I Brought Brother Jed a Sandwich" that was published in an online content sharing site for millennials called The Odyssey.
DeCriscio explains in her op-ed for The Odyssey that she brought sandwiches and drinks to the preachers, including the group's leader Jed Smock, with the hope of "[demonstrating] Christ's love" and communicating an "effective" message that "has the power to change the hearts and minds of others."
"What I have found is that [Jed Smock] and other members of The Campus Ministry USA are completely different when you talk to them on an individual level. They are far gentler, and the love in their message, which isn't conveyed when they're screaming on sidewalks, shines through," DeCriscio wrote last October.
DeCriscio adds that she chose to bring food and drink to the controversial preachers to show Christ's love.
"I'm a Christian, and as such, I believe that God calls me and other Christians to universally show the love of Christ to others. You don't just turn this outpouring of love on or off depending on who it's directed toward. It's not a light switch. Doing so is the very opposite of showing Christ's love because He showed love through corporal works of mercy to everyone, from the sinners to the pharisees and every possible person in between," the former editor added.
As DeCriscio told the Society of Professional Journalists, a national organization representing reporters, she believes she was subsequently dismissed by the newspaper's advisor, Meg Kissinger, for offering a different perspective on the preachers.
"The campus had decided to hate Brother Jed. Because I saw him as a whole person, I think it was the content why I got fired. [Meg Kissinger] said the same thing would have happened if I wrote about kittens, but I don't believe that," DeCriscio, who identifies as a Christian, told SPJ in its Feb. 17 "College Media Watchdog" blog post.
Following her op-ed, DeCriscio received a dismissal letter from Kissinger claiming the reason she was excused from her position as editor-in-chief was because she violated the newspaper's code of ethics on conflict of interest by befriending the preachers.
"By inserting yourself as an interested actor within the ongoing news story, you created a conflict of interest that was both avoidable and ultimately damaging to the reputation of The DePauw," the letter, provided by SPJ, read.
Kissinger told the Student Press Law Center in an interview this week that the publication did not feel DeCriscio could offer an objective perspective on The Campus Ministry USA group.
"[The DePauw] knew this was an important story to get right and report on impressively, to ask tough questions of the police, the administration, the evangelists, the students," Kissinger told the group, which advocates for the rights of student journalists. "It became very clear, very soon that Nicole wasn't up to the task of gathering the diversity of opinions."
"[The DePauw staff members] have to be sensitive to the newspaper's reputation of fairness, balance and honesty for people to look to for reporters to ask tough questions," Kissinger added. "We no longer felt Nicole was able to do this for this story."