A college halted a Christian student's religious speech in a campus free-speech zone, citing his evangelizing as "disorderly conduct," a federal lawsuit states.
Chike Uzuegbunam — a student at Georgia Gwinnett College — "sought to distribute religious literature in an open, generally accessible area of the campus outside the library" in July but was ordered to stop since the location wasn't among the school's free-speech zones, and he lacked a permit, the 76-page
filed Monday in U.S. District Court by Alliance Defending Freedom states.
But that was just the beginning of the battle.
The lawsuit indicates GGC's Freedom of Expression Policy "restricts all types of student speech to two small speech zones that occupy less than 0.0015% of campus" and requires submission of a "free speech area request" form three days in advance of proposed activities, along with materials and literature slated for distribution that administrators can review.
More from the suit:
If students want to speak — whether through oral or written communication — anywhere else on campus, then they must obtain a permit from College officials. 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. Through the permitting process, GGC retains unfettered discretion to determine both whether students may speak at all and where they may speak. In so doing, it fails to protect students against content and viewpoint discrimination. These policies and practices chill protected student speech and disable spontaneous student speech on campus.
Indeed, the lawsuit added that after Uzuegbunam was turned away from the area in front of the library, he and a friend spoke to Aileen C. Dowell, director of the school's Office of Integrity. Dowell was asked if Uzuegbunam could continue conversing with interested parties about his religious views outside the two speech zones, but the suit noted that she "shook her head" and said the Speech Zone Policy "prohibits such conversations outside of the speech zones."
So in August, the suit said Uzuegbunam followed the school's dictates and secured a free-speech zone in a patio area outside a food court on campus after filling out the "free speech area request" form and including two tracts he planned on distributing.
The day came and Uzuegbunam began evangelizing in the free-speech zone. But about 20 minutes into it, the suit said a campus police officer stopped him and said “we just got some calls on you." The officer said the Office of Integrity only cleared Uzuegbunam to speak to students individually, not open-air style, the suit added.
That's when the officer told Uzuegbunam that his open-air speaking, even in the free-speech zone, was “disorderly conduct” since it disturbed the "peace and tranquility of individuals who were congregating in that area" and that he could be prosecuted if he continued, the suit said.
It gets better.
The suit said Uzuegbunam left the patio area to speak to Dowell at the Office of Integrity about the latest speech shutdown — but Dowell said it's a violation of GGC policy for anyone to express a “fire and brimstone message," even in campus free-speech zones.
The lawsuit seeks an end to enforcement of the speech zone and student code of conduct policies applicable to Uzuegbunam's case, as well as "nominal damages."
“Free speech on campus should be a no-brainer,” Travis Barham, one of the Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Uzuegbunam, told TheBlaze on Wednesday. “It could be a religious or non-religious topic. It could be political expression. But in this day and age, anything could cause someone to get upset."
TheBlaze on Wednesday contacted Georgia Gwinnett College for comment on the lawsuit, but a message at the school's communications office indicated campus was closed for winter break.
This story has been updated.
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