A student at Messiah College has sparked outrage on campus for blasting out several anti-abortion tweets that invoked rape, race, and the Holocaust.
Earlier this month, 20-year-old Zach McDonough tweeted: “If you support abortion than [sic] all I ask is you be consistent with your viewpoint and support rape! Why can a woman force herself onto her baby but a man can’t force himself onto a woman? All I ask is consistency.”
Then: “A man should have the right to choose to rape, his body his choice.”
And: “My concentration camp my choice.”
And finally: “My plantation my choice.”
Students at the private Christian school in Mechanicsburg, Penn., said they were upset by the messages, which made them feel unsafe.
McDonough told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that he was ordered to take down any “offensive” tweets at the threat of suspension, and to run any possibly “offensive” tweets through the administration before posting them going forward.
“Basically, they’re silencing my free speech,” he told The Patriot-News on Monday.
Despite his allegations that the college is silencing his anti-abortion stance, McDonough’s Twitter avatar appeared on Tuesday to show him standing in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic and holding a sign with images of a bloody fetus that say: “This isn’t healthcare. It’s murder!”
Before the school reportedly stepped in, students at the 2,690-student college created a Change.org petition asking for McDonough to be formally disciplined. It had nearly 700 signatures as of press time on Tuesday.
“Messiah claims to be a safe and welcoming place to its current and perspective students, but in reality it is anything but,” the petition reads. “It is a place where LGBTQ students are all but ignored and shunned, if you wear a crop top you’re immediately labeled a slut, and students with terrifying and sickening worldviews are not only invited in, but embraced. Something must be done about this apathy that the school administration has. Change needs to happen.”
“I can’t believe we even have to petition for this,” one purported student wrote.
“We don’t know what these men are capable of,” senior Haley Faragalli told ABC 27 of McDonough’s tweet about rape, noting that she hopes the school plans to take action against him. “If they’re tweeting things about this, they could be capable of rape, they could be capable of murder.”
But McDonough—a sophomore from Pittsburgh—defended himself to local news outlets, reportedly emphasizing that his intention wasn’t to cause fear or spread hatred but to point out hypocrisy in a way that grabbed attention and inspired conversation.
“I’m showing people how devaluing human life in any sense is wicked and wrong,” McDonough told ABC 27. “Obviously, rape is wicked and evil, but why is that evil in your world view when you hold that babies should be murdered in the womb?”
“You have to be intellectually dishonest to think that I was actually advocating for rape,” he continued. “You see these things and you get that reaction where you don’t like that, but why don’t you get that kind of reaction for abortion?”
In another set of tweets, McDonough mocked transgender people.
“Not only does my gender change on the daily so does my race,” he wrote. “Here’s my weekly schedule: Monday-White, Tuesday-Chinese, Wednesday-Mexican, Thursday-Black, Friday-Native American, Saturday-Korean, Sunday-Non Binary.”
“College is about expanding your knowledge and being challenged in your beliefs; it’s not about coddling you when you feel ‘offended’ by an argument made against your worldview,” McDonough told The Daily Beast.
“I feel I have accomplished what I wanted on this campus. Everyone is talking about abortion because of what I’ve tweeted, and the goal was always to generate discussion,” he added.
Messiah College spokeswoman Danielle Ran said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Tuesday that the school has received complaints about McDonough’s tweets from students, parents, and employees alike.
“Once made aware of the situation, college officials informed the student that his rhetoric―evoking inflammatory language and imagery of rape, slavery, the Holocaust, gun violence—was in violation of the college’s foundational values and student code of conduct, which every student agrees to abide by prior to enrolling at Messiah College,” said Ran.
Though she could not provide details of the disciplinary measures deployed against McDonough because of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, she said the school’s disciplinary process has been “actively” implemented throughout “this situation.”
Despite this, McDonough has kept tweeting, writing on Monday: “Messiah College does NOT value free speech and Christian values.”
(One day earlier, he tweeted: “The immaturity of woke culture is off the charts!” Two days earlier, he tweeted: “Messiah College, a supposedly ‘Christian’ college is silencing pro-life views/arguments.” And so on.)
Ran said that “campus and student safety” are the college’s primary concern, but that it also seeks to encourage “open, honest, and civil discourse.”
“The college always takes action on every report of racism, sexual assault, harassment and any form of discrimination,” said Ran.
“It is important to know that this particular situation was never, and is not, about the student’s pro-life views,” she added. “We strongly affirm the value, sanctity and dignity of all human life in accordance with scripture. Rather, this issue was about the language that the student was using to express those views that was in conflict with the college’s student code of conduct.”
But McDonough said, in his mind, there’s still a lack of clarity about what constitutes a violation of the code of conduct.
“‘Offensiveness’ is not an objective standard for what can and cannot be said on a college campus,” he told The Daily Beast. “What’s offensive to one person isn’t offensive to someone else, so what is the objective standard by which Messiah deems acceptable speech?”
“I’ve asked faculty and administration multiple times to draw the objective line of what can and cannot be said on this campus, and they have always responded with ‘it’s hard to draw the line.’ My problem is then this: How can I cross a line that doesn’t exist?”