Attorneys representing a Georgia Gwinnett College student and a former student announced Monday they are continuing a legal fight against the Lawrenceville-based college over free speech rights.
Alliance Defending Freedom said it has filed an appeal of a federal court’s dismissal of a free speech lawsuit against GGC. A U.S. District Court recently dismissed the case as moot because the college changed its policies on how people are allowed to speak publicly on campus.
The civil liberties legal group, whose attorneys are representing former student Chike Uzuegbunam and current student Joseph Bradford, said the issue isn’t moot. The group is arguing the court didn’t settle the constitutional rights aspect of the case.
“The First Amendment guarantees every student’s freedom of speech and religion,” ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham said in a statement. “The district court clarified what Georgia Gwinnett College refused to make clear: that its students have the right to speak in any outdoor area of campus.
“That’s good news, but it doesn’t vindicate our clients’ constitutional rights. The district court ignored how GGC officials repeatedly censored Chike, and these officials should not get off scot-free for creating and enforcing policies that trampled students’ constitutionally protected freedoms.”
The civil rights lawsuit was filed in December 2016 and has drawn some national attention, particularly after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a brief in support of the students last fall.
The case revolves around a speech zone policy GGC had in place during the 2016-17 school year and an incident that happened at the beginning of that academic year. Uzuegbunam wanted to speak on campus about his Christian beliefs, but school officials stopped him because he had not followed the policy.
The policy required that he seek permission from GGC officials to speak on campus three days beforehand. The policy also limited him to speak in one of two areas on campus.
Uzuegbunam’s attorneys said that he then tried to comply with the policy, but school officials told him he could speak about religious beliefs, deeming it “disorderly conduct.”
The policy has been changed since then and students can now speak in any of GGC’s outdoor areas. The attorneys for Uzuegbunam and Bradford are now pushing to make sure policies similar to the one that prompted the lawsuit are not implemented in the future.
“Students don’t check their constitutionally protected free speech at the campus gate,” ADF Senior Counsel and ADF Center for Academic Freedom Director Tyson Langhofer said in a statement. “Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s leaders; that’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.
“We’re encouraged that GGC eliminated its unconstitutional speech code and that the court ruled students can speak freely on campus, but we want to ensure that the wrong done to our clients is righted.”