Conservative legal group wants Supreme Court to hear this free speech case
- In 2016, officials at Georgia Gwinnett College told a student to stop sharing his faith, saying he didn’t follow the proper procedures in notifying and gaining permission from the school.
- Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit in district court, Gwinnett College changed its policies and the district and 11th Circuit declared the case moot as a result of policy change.
- ADF attorneys have petitioned to take their case to the Supreme Court arguing, “It’s our hope the Supreme Court will weigh in to make sure that this denial of justice doesn’t occur to anyone else.”
Attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition in late January asking the Supreme Court to hear their case in defending two former students’ free speech rights at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia according to an ADF press release.
Previously, two federal courts declined to hear the free speech case due to the college changing its policies after the suit was filed.
Back in 2016, now graduated Gwinnett College student Chike Uzuegbunam tried to share his Christian faith with his peers on campus. College officials were quick to stop him because he didn’t follow the college policy at the time which required students to obtain permission three days in advance to speak in two tiny designated zones on campus which made up 0.0015 percent of the campus, according to ADF.
When Uzuegbunam reserved a zone and resumed sharing his faith, officials once again ordered him to stop due to a complaint made. Officials deemed Uzuegbunam’s preaching as “disorderly conduct” according to the since-amended Gwinnett policy as the expression “disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s).”
In late 2016, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Uzuegbunam filed suit in the Northern District Court of Georgia claiming the Georgia college violated Uzuegbunam’s 1st Amendment rights. After seeing how college officials treated Uzuegbunam, current student Joseph Bradford, chose not to preach at all.
He joined Uzuegbunam as a plaintiff in the suit later on in 2017 to challenge the constitutionality of the college’s speech zone policies.
After the lawsuit was filed, Gwinnett changed its speech zone policies and the case was declared moot by the court.
In a statement to Campus Reform, Jacqueline Todd, Director of Public Relations at Georgia Gwinnett College, said in an email, “The Northern District of Georgia dismissed the lawsuit against Georgia Gwinnett College and that decision was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.” Todd added, “Georgia Gwinnett College has supported and continues to support the rights of individuals to freely and openly share their thoughts and ideas on the College’s campus in accordance with the First Amendment.”
The petition submitted to the Supreme Court by ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch iterates, “[T]he Eleventh Circuit’s outlier view allows these institutions to violate constitutional rights with impunity -- avoiding judicial review through a well-timed policy shift.” The petition continues, “This rule sends a clear message to students when school officials trample their freedoms: ‘Don’t bother retaining counsel; we know how to game the legal system.'”
“We need to ensure that the wrong done to our clients is righted -- something that both the district court and the 11th Circuit failed to do,” said ADF Senior Counsel and director of ADF Center for American Freedom, Tyson Langhofer. “It’s our hope the Supreme Court will weigh in to make sure that this denial of justice doesn’t occur to anyone else.”
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