“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole world” (Mark 16:15).
Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the Good News to all people. Chike Uzuegbunam wanted to heed these words by sharing the Good News with his fellow students at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC). Little did he know that this action would be deemed as “disorderly conduct.”
First, school administrators told Chike that he could only talk to students and offer them literature on Christianity in two small designated speech zones. These zones made up less than 0.0015 percent of campus and they were only open 10 percent of the week (i.e., eighteen hours).
Still, Chike peacefully complied with these restrictive orders. But that was not enough for college administrators.
In August 2016, Chike was speaking and distributing literature in one of the two designated speech zones. After around 20 minutes, campus police arrived and told him to stop because of “some calls from people complaining.” According to GGC’s speech policy, Chike was engaging in “disorderly conduct,” defined as any expression “which disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s).”
All Chike wanted to do was talk to other students on campus about his faith, and he should have been free to do so. Our Constitution protects every individual’s right to free speech. Further, college campuses are supposed to be places where students are exposed to many different viewpoints and dialogue between opposing views flourishes. So Chike should not have been silenced just because someone else did not like (or did not want to hear) what Chike was saying.
Chike could have given up then. But he decided to take a stand for the Gospel and for his right to proclaim the Gospel by filing suit and challenge his college’s unconstitutional policies.
The Department of Justice even weighed in on Chike’s lawsuit, supporting his First Amendment rights on campus.
In response to the lawsuit, GGC amended its free speech policy to allow for free speech in any outdoor area of campus. And while this is great news, it doesn’t change the fact that Chike’s right to free speech was violated by school administrators. And the lawsuit is ongoing to ensure Chike gets the justice he deserves.
Unfortunately, a federal district court dismissed Chike’s claims as moot because the school has modified its speech policy and Chike is no longer a student at GGC.
But as legal scholars have pointed out, only addressing the free speech claims of current students is a nearly impossible standard to uphold. Federal courts take a median of 25 months to complete a trial, while the majority of students are in college for only four years. This means a student would have to have their free speech violated as a first-semester freshman in order to have any hope of their claim being addressed in a federal court. Otherwise, college officials will continue to violate students’ freedoms, knowing that it is very unlikely that they will ever be held accountable.
Chike deserves to have his personal claim of a free speech violation addressed. “We’re encouraged that GGC eliminated its unconstitutional speech code and that the court ruled students can speak freely on campus,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, “but we want to ensure that the wrong done to our clients is righted.”
Chike wanted to heed the words of Christ and spread the Good News to his classmates. He was silenced for doing so. This has yet to be addressed.