SCOTUS overwhelmingly sides with Christian student silenced on campus
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of two Georgia Gwinnett College students who were prevented from speaking on campus about their religious beliefs.
The Alliance Defending Freedom said that the Supreme Court "affirmed that government officials should be held accountable for the injuries they cause."
The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Georgia Gwinnett College student who was prohibited from sharing his Christian values with his fellow classmates.
For the past four years, Chike Uzuegbunam has been battling his alma mater over alleged violations of the First Amendment on campus. He has since graduated, but finally, on March 8 the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in his favor.
The events leading to the lawsuit took place in the summer of 2016 when Uzuegbunam was passing out Christian flyers on campus and talking about the Gospel, according to his attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom. He was then stopped by university officials and told that he must reserve a “speech zone” time slot if he was to continue.
According to the complaint, Georgia Gwinnett had two “speech zones” at the time, although they were only open for 18 hours on weekdays "which together make up just 0.0015 percent of campus."
As Campus Reform previously covered, Uzuegbunam obeyed orders from the college and requested to reserve a time from the school, which was approved, but that he was stopped once again. This second time it took only 20 minutes for campus police to request his ID and force him to stop because of another individual's complaints.
The officers then told Uzuegbunam that he had violated the “speech code” outlined in the Student Code of Conduct. A second student, Joseph Bradford, was deterred from voicing his values on campus due to fear of experiencing what Uzuegbunam had gone through.
Georgia Gwinnett College argued first that speech used by Uzuegbunam should not be constitutionally protected, later abandoning this argument and altering its speech zones to include any outdoor areas on campus. The ADF asked the Supreme Court to hear this case after it was dismissed by the District Court and the Eleventh Circuit as a result of the school changing these policies.
According to the Supreme Court opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the students sued multiple officials and “sought nominal damages and injunctive relief.”
The opinion further stated that Uzuegbunam has already established the “injury” that is “fairly traceable to the challenged conduct,” needed to satisfy the “irreducible constitutional minimum” of Article III.
Whether or not nominal damages could serve to redress the past injury was decided by the Supreme Court, which took into account previous “forms of relief awarded at common law.”
The opinion of the Court states that “because nominal damages were available at common law in analogous circumstances, we conclude that a request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element of standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right.”
After mentioning key points from several previous cases, Thomas concludes that “applying this principle here is straightforward. For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him. Because 'every violation [of a right] imports damage,' Webb, 29 F. Cas., at 509, nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.”
ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner argued the case before the Supreme Court. She hosted a press call shortly after the decision in which she voiced her enthusiasm.
“The Supreme Court has rightly affirmed that government officials should be held accountable for the injuries they cause. When public officials violate constitutional rights, it causes serious harm to the victims,” Waggoner stated.
During the call, she pointed out that “nearly 90 percent of college campuses in the U.S. have unconstitutional speech policies,” and very often schools get away with it.
“In the past, if it was impossible to prove monetary damages, then the government could just walk away,” Waggoner explained. "This case will change that, putting colleges and universities at a higher risk if they choose to enact unconstitutional policies."
Waggoner also pointed out that Georgia Gwinnett “never offered a dollar” to the students, and was hoping that the policy change could prevent the case from prevailing.
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