Chike Uzuegbunam wanted to share the Gospel at Georgia Gwinnett College, so he handed out pamphlets on campus. College officials told him he wasn’t allowed to distribute these materials unless he’d reserved a time to do so in a campus speech zone.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said the two speech zones at the college made up about 0.0015% of the campus and were available for only 18 hours per week. Uzuegbunam reserved a time to hand out pamphlets and sought approval for the material. But once he started, campus police approached him, took his ID card, and told him to stop because someone complained.
According to the college’s student code of conduct, officials can stop students from speaking if anyone complains. ADF filed a lawsuit on Uzuegbunam’s behalf, seeking an injunction and nominal damages. Another student, Joseph Bradford, joined the case. After the filing, administrators changed the policy but didn’t rectify their treatment of Uzuegbunam and Bradford. ADF said that the college allowed students to play “loud and sometimes vulgar and obscene music inside and outside the tiny speech zones on campus” but suppressed religious expression.
After two federal courts declined to review the case, Uzuegbunam appealed to the nation’s highest court. The college argued that the request for an injunction was moot, since it already changed the policy, and that the students didn’t have standing for damages. The U.S Supreme Court disagreed with this argument. On Monday, the court ruled 8-1 in Uzuegbunam’s favor. The court contended that he could seek nominal damages from the college. From ADF:
“The Supreme Court has rightly affirmed that government officials should be held accountable for the injuries they cause. When public officials violate constitutional rights, it causes serious harm to the victims,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Groups representing diverse ideological viewpoints supported our clients because the threat to our constitutionally protected freedoms doesn’t stop with free speech rights or a college campus. When government officials engage in misconduct without consequences, it leaves victims without recourse, undermines the nation’s commitment to protecting constitutional rights, and emboldens the government to engage in future violations. We are pleased that the Supreme Court weighed in on the side of justice for those victims.”
The justice who voted against the students was Chief Justice John Roberts. He contended that because Uzuegbunam and Bradford were no longer students at Georgia Gwinnett College, the restrictions no longer exist, and the plaintiffs never alleged actual damages, the case was moot.