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ADF appeals decision to allow bad speech policy to stand while suit against GSU proceeds

Christian man was thrown in jail for speaking without permit at Georgia Southern University
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a notice of appeal Friday in the case of a Christian man arrested for sharing his faith in the “free speech area” of Georgia Southern University. A federal judge declined to suspend the university policy that led to the man’s arrest while his lawsuit against GSU moves forward in court. Under the policy, the university is allowed to deny free speech completely or limit its duration and frequency. The university typically limits speech to 90 minutes once a month and requires a 48 hour notice as part of its permit process.

A university official and campus police officer told the man that he needed to apply for a permit to exercise his free speech rights before he was eventually thrown in jail. ADF attorneys filed suit against GSU in July.

“Christians shouldn’t be arrested and jailed for expressing their beliefs on public university campuses. No one should be forced to go through an excessively burdensome and restrictive process just to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “While this lawsuit moves forward, the university should not be allowed to enforce a policy that gives them far too much latitude in stifling free speech protected by the First Amendment.”

In March 2008, Benjamin Bloedorn visited a “free speech area” on the Georgia Southern University campus with a few friends to share a Christian message with students. An official then told Bloedorn and his colleagues that they had to fill out a permit application to have their expression reviewed and approved. The forms, which must be submitted two days prior to a requested speaking engagement, require detailed personal information as well as the proposed topic and time of the expression.

Bloedorn and his friends considered the burdensome process invasive and in violation of their constitutional rights. When they continued to share their message with passersby, an officer interrupted their activity, insisted that they were trespassing on “private property,” and stated they needed university permission to speak on campus. When Bloedorn resumed speaking, he was abruptly handcuffed and driven to a holding cell before he was transported to city jail, where he was held for nearly six hours. He was later released on bail, and the trespassing charge was dropped. Bloedorn has refrained from returning to campus to share his faith out of fear of arrest.

On Nov. 24, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia denied the motion for preliminary injunction filed by ADF attorneys in Bloedorn v. Grube. The appeal of that denial now goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. ADF-allied attorney Charles Stebbins, III, of the Augusta law firm Warlick, Tritt, Stebbins & Murray, LLP, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.