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University Tried to Censor Christian Students

The University of Idaho tried to chill speech by issuing illegal no-contact orders against three students and a professor.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Published
Revised
The University of Idaho tried to chill speech by issuing illegal no-contact orders against three students and a professor

College campuses are meant to be places where civil and robust debate can occur on a variety of issues. This is especially true for law schools, which are supposed to teach students how to properly debate and defend ideas and positions in court.

Unfortunately, the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, attempted to censor members of its law school’s Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter and shut down civil discourse by only allowing one point of view on the issue of marriage. But with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, three students and a professor from that club challenged the university’s unconstitutional actions.

 

Who are Peter Perlot, Mark Miller, Ryan Alexander, and Richard Seamon?

Peter Perlot is a recent graduate from the University of Idaho College of Law. During his time at the university, he served as president of the law school’s Christian Legal Society (CLS) chapter.

Mark Miller and Ryan Alexander are both current students and CLS members, and Richard Seamon is a law professor at the University of Idaho who serves as the faculty advisor to the CLS chapter.

CLS had chapters at over 120 campuses in 2021, and its website explains that one of its objectives is “to proclaim Jesus as Lord through all we do.”

When a student at the University of Idaho asked a group of CLS members about their beliefs on marriage, they politely explained that they adhered to the biblical view. Peter, Mark, Ryan, and Professor Seamon had no way of knowing this honest answer would lead to punishment from the university.

 

Perlot v. Green

In April 2022, the University of Idaho College of Law in Moscow held a “moment of community” in response to an anti-LGBT slur that had been written on a whiteboard at the law school’s Boise campus. Professor Seamon, Peter, Mark, and other CLS members attended the event to denounce the slur and marginalization of any members of the community.

When the CLS members arrived at the event, they formed a circle on the steps in front of the law school and started praying. Some other students who were not CLS members also joined them in prayer.

After the prayer, one student asked the CLS members why they believed marriage was between one man and one woman. Mark politely explained that the Bible clearly defines marriage in this way, and Professor Seamon agreed.

Later, Peter left a note on the student’s desk offering to speak with her one-on-one so that they could better understand each other’s views.

In the days following the event, other students and professors began mischaracterizing the CLS members’ beliefs. Some students even staged walkouts from Professor Seamon’s classes. Ryan spoke up to defend his fellow CLS members at a subsequent event.

The university then issued no-contact orders against Peter, Mark, and Ryan barring them from any interactions with the student who had asked them about their beliefs. It also issued a similar order against Professor Seamon prohibiting him from interacting with the student “outside of what is required for classroom assignments, discussion, and attendance.”

All four feared further action against them if they simply expressed their religious beliefs on campus or to other students. University of Idaho officials refused to rescind the no-contact orders even after ADF attorneys informed them of their First Amendment violations, so ADF filed a lawsuit.

In June 2022, a federal district court ruled that Peter, Mark, and Ryan were likely to prevail on their claims against University of Idaho officials. The court granted a motion to stop the university from enforcing the orders against the students while their lawsuit proceeded.

Following the court’s ruling, University of Idaho officials agreed to a settlement in which they permanently rescinded the no-contact orders against Peter, Mark, Ryan, and Professor Seamon. In addition, the university paid $90,000.

 

Outcome

The court’s ruling and the subsequent settlement agreement ensure students, faculty, and staff remain free to express their beliefs on campus without fearing punishment from university officials.

Students are free to debate various ideas, and university officials cannot shut down views simply because they disagree with them.

 

Case timeline

  • April 2022: The University of Idaho issued no-contact orders against Peter, Mark, and Ryan. ADF filed a lawsuit on their behalf.
  • May 2022: The university issued a similar order against Professor Seamon, and ADF added him to the case.
  • June 2022: A federal district court granted a motion to temporarily block the university from enforcing the orders against Peter, Mark, and Ryan.
  • December 2022: University of Idaho officials agreed to a settlement in which they permanently rescinded all four orders and paid $90,000.

 

The bottom line

Universities cannot issue no-contact orders against students and faculty for peacefully expressing their religious views on campus.

 

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Alliance Defending Freedom
Non-profit organization
ADF is the world's largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights.