Supreme Court to review Georgia college’s punishment of student’s free speech
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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Chike Uzuegbunam, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College who was punished for professing his faith on campus outside of narrowly-defined “speech zones.”
In 2016, college officials shut down Uzuegbunam for sharing Christian leaflets with other students on campus outside one of two designated speech zones, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. He later reserved one of the zones and secured college permission to use it to talk about Christianity, but was stopped a second time in response to a complaint.
Gwinnett’s policies forbid any expression “which disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s),” with violators subject to disorderly conduct charges if they make people “uncomfortable.” However, the “speech zones” offered as an alternative comprised less than 0.0015 percent of the campus grounds, and were only open for use 18 hours per week.
“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 says.
Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Uzuegbunam sued the college, but two federal courts dismissed the case on the grounds that Gwinnett modified its policies in response to the lawsuit, rendering the issue moot. ADF maintains a final decision is needed to prevent the anti-speech policies from being restored; the Supreme Court has now agreed that the matter is serious enough to intervene.
“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,” ADF senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy John Bursch said. “Neither the district court nor the appeals court held Georgia Gwinnett College officials accountable for how they repeatedly mistreated, censored, and intimidated the two students involved in this case, so it’s appropriate for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the matter.”
“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,” ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer added. “It’s our hope the Supreme Court will make sure that this denial of justice doesn’t occur to anyone else.”
The Supreme Court’s next term begins in October; it remains to be seen when it will begin hearing oral arguments in the case.