Did you hear the good news?
Yesterday, on March 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Chike Uzuegbunam, a former Georgia Gwinnett College student who was stopped twice from publicly sharing his faith on campus. This victory comes more than four years after Alliance Defending Freedom initially filed a lawsuit on Chike’s behalf.
College officials first silenced Chike from speaking about his faith in a public area on campus, telling him to reserve one of the two tiny campus “speech zones.” Yet, even when Chike followed their directions, campus police ordered him to stop because someone had complained. The officers demanded his ID card and ordered him to stop speaking, threatening him with discipline if he continued to share his faith.
In response to the lawsuit, the college eventually made some changes to its speech policies. Because of that and the fact that Chike had graduated, the college argued it should be able to avoid any penalties for violating Chike’s free speech rights. Unfortunately, two lower courts agreed.
The Supreme Court was Chike’s last shot at justice.
And, thankfully, the Court delivered that justice, ruling that government officials should be held accountable to the victims when they violate someone’s constitutional rights.
As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion: “[I]t 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’ … nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.”
Let’s break that down a little bit.
Our constitutional rights are invaluable. And it’s the government’s job to protect those priceless freedoms.
But what happens when government officials fail that duty?
That’s where the court system—and nominal damages—comes in.
Our courts should hold government officials responsible when they violate our constitutional rights, like college officials did when they stopped Chike from sharing his faith on campus. And nominal damages—a small money award that legally recognizes someone’s rights were violated—are crucial to provide a court remedy in these cases.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled that Chike was entitled to seek nominal damages, and it rebuked the lower court. In dismissing Chike’s case, the lower court failed to hold Georgia Gwinnett College accountable for violating his free speech rights.
When government officials violate our priceless constitutional freedoms, the judiciary should step in to secure justice.
And ADF is committed to advocating for those freedoms in the courts of all levels—including all the way to the Supreme Court when necessary. With this victory, ADF has now won twelve cases at the Supreme Court since 2011. At all levels, we’re winning nearly 80 percent of all our cases. And our Center for Academic Freedom, which is handling Chike’s case, has secured over 435 victories against public colleges and universities nationwide. Thanks be to God!
With God’s blessing (John 15:5) and your support, we can continue to defend your most cherished freedoms in courts across the nation. And as Chike’s victory shows, we can win!
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