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This Supreme Court Case Could Protect Students’ Speech Rights on Campus—And More

Maureen Collins
Published on
ADF client Chike Uzuegbunam on campus at Georgia Gwinnett College

Chike Uzuegbunam’s college officials silenced him twice. And so far they’ve gotten away with it.

In 2016, as a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, Chike wanted to share his Christian faith with his fellow students in a public area on campus. First, officials told him that if he wanted to continue to talk publicly with other students about his faith, he had to get advance permission to use one of two tiny speech zones on campus.

These speech zones made up less than one percent of campus. That means if the campus were the size of a football field, the speech zones would comprise roughly a sheet of notebook paper. And these zones were only open less than 10 percent of the week!

But even after Chike followed these unfair guidelines, college officials still silenced him.

While Chike was speaking about his faith in a zone which he reserved, two campus police officers approached him and told him they had received a complaint. They demanded his ID card and then ordered him to stop speaking or face discipline.

The college was clearly violating Chike’s constitutional rights. The only recourse he had left was to challenge it in court.

Waiting for Justice

With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Chike challenged the college’s unfair speech policies in federal court. But the court delayed the ruling for more than a year. By then, Chike had graduated.

The college had also made changes to the illegal speech policies that prevented Chike from speaking on campus. So, the court said that because of these changes and because Chike had graduated, the case was over.

But what about Chike’s freedom of speech?

He was no longer a student and couldn’t benefit from the new policy that Georgia Gwinnet College put in place. The fact that Chike was prevented from exercising his First Amendment right to free speech didn’t change. But the court dismissed the case as if none of that mattered.

Now, Chike is still awaiting justice for the harm he faced when his rights were violated on campus.

Colleges are Ducking Consequences

Unfortunately, Chike’s story isn’t rare. Colleges across the country violate students’ rights with unconstitutional policies on a regular basis. Then when students challenge these policies in court, the colleges simply change the policies and avoid the consequences.

For example, in 2012, Chemeketa Community College enforced a speech zone policy only to revise it after ADF sent a demand letter to do so. But by 2020, the college had reinstituted the speech zone, forcing ADF to file suit to protect students’ rights.

And in 2006, in the same state as Chike’s college, Georgia Tech University had a student fee policy that violated its students First Amendment rights. ADF challenged this policy, and a federal court highlighted its constitutional flaws. And yet, in 2020, ADF had to sue Georgia Tech again over the same policy when it denied funding to a lecture from Dr. Alveda King because its officials did not like her religious and pro-life views.

Each of these cases are not only unfair, they’re unconstitutional.

Every American’s right to free speech is protected by the Constitution. College officials shouldn’t get a free pass when they violate rights. But many public colleges and universities have found a way to silence students without facing such consequences.

That’s why Chike is taking his case against Georgia Gwinnett College to the U.S. Supreme Court. And next week on January 12, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys will argue on his behalf.

This case could potentially put an end to government officials violating the First Amendment and ducking the consequences. And that means a win for Chike is a win for all Americans.

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Maureen Collins
Maureen Collins
Web Editor & SEO Manager
Maureen Collins serves as the Web Editor and SEO Manager at Alliance Defending Freedom.