College Sued for Banning Student’s Preaching as ‘Disorderly Conduct’
A student at Georgia Gwinnett College was singled out and told to stop preaching in the school's free speech zones.
Sure, you can preach here, Georgia Gwinnett College told an evangelical student, right over there — on two spots making up just 0.0015 percent of the campus. Oh, also, the “public forum areas” are only open 18 hours a week and not on the weekends. And you have to ask permission three days in advance. Which we don’t have to grant.
Chike Uzuegbunam complied. Then the administration told him to stop doing it at all. A campus law enforcement officer told him that “people are calling us because their peace and tranquility is being disturbed.” His witnessing was “disorderly conduct.” That’s any expression “which disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s).” That means almost anything someone wants to complain about and the Student Affairs office wants to ban.
The college’s Freedom of Expression Policy says “the Student Affairs official must not consider or impose restrictions based on the content or viewpoint of the expression.” But the college doesn’t seem to mean it when the content or viewpoint are Christian.
The officer told him to stop preaching. He said Uzuegbunam could only speak one on one with students. He told him to use the methods of other religious denominations to relay his message. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“LDS”) regularly get approval to visit the GGC campus.
There was no claim that that Uzuegbunam caused any damage or behaved violently. He did not block anyone passing by or cause congestion. He did not use a microphone or carry a sign.
After he was told to stop preaching, Uzuegbunam went to speak with Aileen Dowell, GGC’s Director of the Office of Student Integrity. She said that it is a violation of GGC policy for anyone to express a “fire and brimstone message” on campus, even within the free speech zones.
The Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to GGC objecting to its policy three years ago. GGC never responded, so the ADF filed a lawsuit last December on Uzuegbunam’s behalf against the college. The complaint contends that the policy discriminates against religion, because non-religious students are accommodated. The ADF is asking the court to suspend the policies.
Aileen Dowell, GGC’s Director of the Office of Student Integrity said that it is a violation of GGC policy for anyone to express a “fire and brimstone message” on campus, even within the free speech zones.
Handing out tracts and evangelizing is part of Uzuegbunam’s Christian faith, the ADF asserts. The school has “created and enforced a heckler’s veto.” Anyone who is offended or discomforted by students engaging in free speech can use the college’s policy to silence them. The school’s disorderly conduct policy is overly broad.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It applies to public places, including public colleges like Georgia Gwinnett College. The ADF lawsuit contends that Uzuegbunam is engaging in religious speech, protected by at least two clauses in the Constitution.
ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham said, “a state college … has the duty to protect and promote those freedoms.” He went on, “Students don’t check their constitutionally protected free speech at the campus gate.” He ridiculed the school for hypocritically “touting commitments to ‘diversity’ and ‘open communications.”
The U.S. has a rich history of street preachers. It’s doubtful the college will prevail in ending this tradition, especially if the case makes it up all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the court, tends to side in favor of religious freedom.
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