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The Alliance Defending Freedom will go before the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to defend a former college student who was silenced while trying to share the gospel with fellow students at Georgia Gwinnett College.
The dispute began in 2016 when a student, Chike Uzuegbunam, filed the lawsuit arguing his free speech rights were violated.
Uzuegbunam said a college official told him he was violating their speech zone policy which required him to ask three days in advance for permission to speak, limiting him to two small speech zones on campus.
Despite this, Uzuegbunam agreed to the schools terms and tried following protocol. He was then silenced again from sharing his faith because they saw him handing out Christian literature as “disorderly conduct”.
Uzuegbunam stopped his demonstration and filed the lawsuit. Another student, Joseph Bradford, who also wanted to preach on campus, joined the case as a plaintiff.
Attorneys described these “free speech expression areas” as “tiny” and only make up less than 0.0015 percent of the campus.
Ten weeks after they filed their lawsuit, administrators changed the policies to allow students to speak and distribute literature in open outdoor areas of the campus.
U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross in Atlanta dismissed the case without prejudice in May 2018, finding that the policy changes rendered the students’ lawsuit moot.
However, attorney Travis Barham of the Alliance Defending Freedom said that the policy change was not enough.
“While that’s good news, it doesn’t vindicate our clients’ rights. The district court ignored how GGC officials repeatedly censored Chike and the impact this had on Joseph. Those officials shouldn’t be allowed to get away with creating and enforcing policies that trampled the constitutionally protected freedoms of students,” Barham said in a statement.
Barham asked a judge to reverse the district court’s ruling so the students can file an amended complaint seeking compensatory damages.
“[The] plaintiffs incurred financial costs to go to campus. They have travelling expenses. [Uzuegbunam] also suffered reputational injuries when he was told he would be cited for disorderly conduct,” Barham said.
Furthermore, he wanted to address whether the college violated the speech rights of the students.
“We believe the college has to make amends for the unconstitutional enforcement of its policies against our clients,” Barham stated.