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Free speech forbidden in ‘free speech area’ at Georgia Southern Univ.

ADF attorneys file lawsuit against GSU officials after Christian man is thrown in jail for speaking without permit
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Monday against Georgia Southern University officials on behalf of a Christian man arrested for sharing his faith in the campus’s “free speech area.” 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.

“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 permit process just to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “Requiring campus visitors to provide 48 hours of advance notice to share their message in an area already dedicated to free speech is not only unconstitutional, but it effectively converts public universities from marketplaces of ideas to centers of censorship.”

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 through signs, literature, and conversation. After situating himself in a grassy area beside the Russell Union Student Center pedestrian mall and rotunda, a university official 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 taken into custody by university police officers, who handcuffed Bloedorn and drove him 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.

ADF attorneys filed the complaint in Bloedorn v. Grube with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. 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.