The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving a Georgia college student who was silenced, more than once, from sharing his Christian faith with fellow students on campus.
Chike Uzuegbunam was a junior at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in Lawrenceville, GA, during the summer of 2016. While passing out religious material to students, he was approached by campus police who advised that he needed permission to evangelize and that it must be done in a "free speech zone," Atlanta News Now reports.
Uzuegbunam complied with their orders, but was approached again by officials who told him to stop preaching on campus because someone had complained.
"College officials didn't really care about where I was standing, they just didn't like what I was saying. So, they invoked these policies to silence me," Uzuegbunam said.
He filed a lawsuit with the US District Court in Atlanta against the college, insisting that his constitutional rights had been violated.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit religious freedom law firm who represents Uzuegbunam, argues that courts should hold colleges accountable when they violate students' First Amendment rights.
"Government officials must be held responsible for enacting and enforcing policies that trample students' constitutionally protected freedoms. If they get off scot-free, they or others can simply do it again," said ADF Attorney John Bursch.
GGC filed a motion to dismiss the First Amendment suit by claiming it removed the Christian student from campus because his discussion of the Gospel incited "hostility" and "fighting words."
In 2018, a federal court judge dismissed the case, saying that the college had settled the main issue and the judge agreed to dismiss the motion.
The court noted that the college had amended its speech policy to be more user-friendly for students and outside speakers to discuss matters on campus.
Additionally, US District Judge Eleanor Ross said that a court order against the school would no longer help Uzuegbunam, who had since graduated. "There is no reasonable expectation that he will be subjected to the same alleged injury again, such that the Court could grant him declaratory or injunctive relief," Ross said.
She also pointed to the fact that the school had revised its policies after receiving the lawsuit and put its employees through training. Judge Ross stated that there was "no reasonable basis" to think the college would revert back to its old practices.
The ruling was upheld on appeal in 2019.
ADF says the fight isn't over yet. Oral arguments were heard at the US Supreme Court on Jan. 12 via livestream.
TODAY Kristen Waggoner argues Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski before the Supreme Court. Stay tuned on social media to hear how courts can hold government officials accountable when they violate constitutional rights. #SCOTUS #CampusSpeechMattershttps://t.co/omQUHhvLlh pic.twitter.com/hV07orbzvz
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends) January 12, 2021
"When government officials violate constitutional rights, it causes serious harm to the victims," said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case before the Supreme Court.
"Government officials shouldn't get a free pass for violating constitutional rights on campus or anywhere else. When officials engage in misconduct but face no consequences, it leaves victims without recourse, undermines the nation's commitment to protecting constitutional rights, and emboldens the government to engage in future violations."
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