Supreme Court Sides with Christian Student Banned from Sharing Faith on College Campus

Crystal A. Dixon | Contributor | Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Supreme Court Sides with Christian Student Banned from Sharing Faith on College Campus

Supreme Court Sides with Christian Student Banned from Sharing Faith on College Campus

A former student banned from preaching on a Georgia college campus can seek recompense, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, the U.S. high court determined that Chike Uzuegbunam can seek nominal reimbursements from Georgia Gwinnett College, in an 8-1 ruling.  

According to The Christian Post, the judgment reversed a ruling from the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further judicial proceedings following the Supreme Court’s opinion.

The majority view, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, was also endorsed by Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Sonia Sotomayor. 

“For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him,” concluded Thomas.

“Because ‘every violation [of a right] imports damage’ … nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.”

Chief Justice John Roberts authored a dissent opinion, noting that Uzuegbunam and fellow plaintiff Joseph Bradford’s case has many issues, including that both men have already graduated from the school. Additionally, Roberts noted that the college has since change its policies and “the petitioners have not alleged actual damages.”

“In the Court’s view, nominal damages can save a case from mootness because any amount of money — no matter how trivial — ‘can redress a past injury,’” wrote Roberts.

“But an award of nominal damages does not alleviate the harms suffered by a plaintiff and is not intended to. If nominal damages can preserve a live controversy, then federal courts will be required to give advisory opinions whenever a plaintiff tacks on a request for a dollar.”

In 2016, Uzuegbunam, an evangelical Christian, was banned by officials of George Gwinnet college from speaking and handing out printed information at an outdoor area of the public college’s campus and told that student free speech was restricted to two specific areas of the campus.

Later Uzuegbunam reserved one of the two specified free speech areas so he could speak and pass out Christian literature. Again, campus police asked him to stop, informing him that he was violating the “Student Code of Conduct” because the free speech zone was not reserved for “open-air speaking”.

Fellow classmate, Bradford, whose preaching was thwarted due to campus restrictions, joined Uzuegbunam in pursuing legal action against Gwinnett.

While the college altered its free speech policy since banning Uzuegbunam, the two men still decided to move forward with their lawsuit.

Backing an earlier lower court ruling identifying the case moot, a three-judge 11th Circuit group delivered a per curium verdict against the students in July 2019.

Uzuegbunam and Bradford, represented by Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, petitioned the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in January.

Waggoner argued that the students “lost forever the chance to get those days back and speak their message to their peers.”

“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. 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,” Waggoner said in a Monday statement.

"Officials within our public institutions shouldn’t get a free pass for violating constitutional rights on campus or anywhere else," she added. "When such officials engage in misconduct but face no consequences, it leaves victims without recourse, undermines the nation’s commitment to protecting constitutional rights, and emboldens the government to engage in future violations.”

She concluded, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court weighed in on the side of justice for those victims.”

Photo courtesy: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

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Supreme Court Sides with Christian Student Banned from Sharing Faith on College Campus