A student in Georgia has sued his school after he claims the public college prohibited him from sharing his Christian faith on campus.
Lawyers for Georgia Gwinnett College student Chike Uzuegbunam filed a lawsuit against the school on Monday.
Uzuegbunam “believes it is his duty to inform others” of his evangelical Christian beliefs and “for their own benefit, that they have sinned and need salvation through Jesus Christ,” the lawsuit says.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” Casey Mattox, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement.“That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that [Georgia Gwinnett College] and many other colleges are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit legal organization representing Uzuegbunam, says the university cannot censor Uzuegbunam because it would be a violation of his First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment guarantees every student’s freedom of speech and religion,” Travis Barham, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel, said in a statement. “Every public school—and especially a state college that is supposed to be the ‘marketplace of ideas’—has the duty to protect and promote those freedoms.”
The student says officials at his college restricted his ability to share his faith with other students, limiting him to free speech in a small zone and requested he ask permission in advance to use the space.
The lawsuit claims the college “burdens his free speech because he is prohibited from saying anything that might offend, disturb, or discomfort anyone who happens to hear him lest he be punished for ‘disorderly conduct.’”
All students must submit a free speech zone request three days prior to using the two small speech zones on campus, the lawsuit says. The college has a “Freedom of Expression Policy” that requires students to submit a free speech area request form, along with all publicity materials, for all activities in the designated free speech area.
“Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) is committed to providing a forum for free and open expression of divergent points of view by students, student organizations, faculty, staff, and visitors,” the college’s student handbook says. “GGC also recognizes its responsibility to provide a secure learning environment which allows members of the community to express their views in ways which do not disrupt the operation of the college.”
The Freedom of Expression Policy says:
Reasonable limitations may be placed on time, place, and manner of speeches, gatherings, distribution of written materials, and marches in order to serve the interests of health and safety, prevent disruption of the educational process, and protect against the invasion of the rights of others as deemed necessary by Georgia Gwinnett College.
The college defines the free speech zones as “the concrete area/walkway between Student Housing and the Student Center or the concrete in front of the Food Court area, Building A.”
The areas are “generally available from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Friday,” the handbook says.
“On occasion upon written request, other areas and other times may be authorized, and the college reserves the right to modify the free speech areas based on the operational needs of the institution,” the policy adds.
Alliance Defending Freedom calls the zones “ridiculously” small and says they take up less than 0.0015 percent of the campus.
The school stopped the student named in the lawsuit from handing out religious literature and talking to students about his religion this past summer even after he followed the protocol set by the college, Alliance Defending Freedom claims.
The student claims that in August, he was allegedly following school rules while “preaching the love of Christ.” Campus police stopped him after about 20 minutes because of “some calls” complaining about him, according to the lawsuit.
“If students want to speak—whether through oral or written communication—anywhere else on campus, then they must obtain a permit from college officials,” the lawsuit says. “Thus, students may not speak spontaneously anywhere on campus. If students violate this policy, they violate the college’s Student Code of Conduct and expose themselves to a variety of sanctions, including expulsion.”
A spokeswoman for the college told The Daily Signal that Georgia Gwinnett College is unable to comment on the lawsuit.
“Officials at Georgia Gwinnett College were not notified of the lawsuit and cannot comment on pending litigation,” the spokeswoman told The Daily Signal in an email.
“When Mr. Uzuegbunam tried to share his religious views in one of the speech zones after reserving it for this purpose, defendants required him to stop because his speech had generated complaints [and] informed him that his speech constituted ‘disorderly conduct’ because it had generated complaints,” the lawsuit goes on to say.
The lawsuit requests that the school suspend its policy on free speech zones.