NEW ORLEANS — The Alliance Defense Fund is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to rehear a ruling that allows Southeastern Louisiana University to continue enforcement of a permit requirement and two-hours-per-week “free speech” policy against an outside Christian speaker while his lawsuit proceeds in court.
The petition for rehearing en banc filed Tuesday asks the full 5th Circuit to reverse a three-judge panel’s 2–1 decision, issued July 27, that allows SLU officials to continue forcing outside speakers to apply for a permit seven days prior to exercising their First Amendment rights on campus. However, the panel agreed that the university can no longer charge a discriminatory “security fee” to religious speakers simply because their speech might be deemed controversial.
“Public universities shouldn’t be allowed to prevent a citizen from exercising his First Amendment right to express his Christian beliefs,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “A campus speech policy does not trump the rights of Americans protected by the Constitution and, therefore, should not be left in force. However, the court did the right thing by striking down SLU’s security fee scheme. No one should be forced to pay for permission to exercise his constitutionally protected right to free speech.”
ADF attorneys are challenging the three-judge panel’s denial of four out of five requests in their motion for preliminary injunction, all of which allow SLU to unconstitutionally discriminate against Christian speakers. The contested policies include: 1) the restriction of outside speakers to two hours of free speech per week, 2) a seven-day advance notice regulation, 3) the requirement of applicants to divulge extensive personal information in order to obtain a permit, and 4) the confinement of outside speakers to three pre-selected areas of campus for sharing their messages. The panel agreed to grant a preliminary injunction that prohibits officials from enforcing a policy that allowed them to charge a “security fee” to an outside speaker simply because his speech might be considered controversial.
The dissenting judge on the panel wrote, “The bottom line is simply that when the government requires every individual or handful of people to seek advance permission before exercising their First Amendment rights in public, it suppresses a far greater amount of speech than is necessary to serve any legitimate governmental purpose.”
In November 2007, Sonnier and his three friends were stopped by campus police from sharing their faith on the SLU campus. Even though the three were in a campus location approved for outside speakers, the police insisted that they needed a permit.
ADF attorneys filed Sonnier v. Crain in November 2008 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana before appealing it to the 5th Circuit. John B. Wells of Slidell, one of nearly 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is local counsel in the case.
- Pronunciation guide: Sonnier (Sawn-YAY')
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.