Next week, on January 12, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Chike Uzuegbunam.
And we should all be paying attention.
As a Georgia Gwinnett College student, Chike was twice stopped by college officials from publicly sharing his faith with his fellow students on campus.
That’s why Chike, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit. But by the time the court ruled, the college had changed its unconstitutional policies and Chike had graduated. Because of this, two courts dismissed the case.
There’s just one big problem: Georgia Gwinnett College was never held accountable for the fact that it violated Chike’s constitutional rights—not just once, but twice. So, to get Chike the justice he deserves and to ensure that government officials do not get a free pass when they violate our priceless freedoms, ADF asked the Supreme Court to hear his case.
But don’t let the fact that this case centers around a college campus fool you. How the Court rules could impact us all—regardless of when, where, or whether you attended college.
Ultimately, a win for Chike is a win for all Americans. And a loss is a loss for us all.
While this Supreme Court case is important for everyone, it will have particularly significant implications for those attending college now and in the future.
A Supreme Court victory would likely mean that if (and when) college officials violate a student’s constitutional rights, those officials could be held responsible. And students like Chike would be more likely to get the justice they deserve. A victory could also put more weight behind court decisions that call out constitutional violations, deterring college officials from abusing their authority in the future.
But if the Supreme Court rules against Chike, that could mean a lot more cases like his—where college officials can escape the consequences and continue to violate a student’s rights once courts are no longer watching them. We’ve seen it happen. Not to mention that students would have less incentive to challenge unconstitutional policies on campus and more incentive to self-censor their speech instead.
Regardless of which way the Supreme Court rules, we know it could significantly impact free speech on campus. And we also know that what happens on campus, doesn’t stay on campus.
Ultimately, a threat to free speech on campus is a threat to free speech everywhere.
Chike’s story highlights a bigger, and more wide-reaching, threat.
College officials at public, taxpayer-funded colleges and universities are government officials. And they have a duty to protect the constitutional rights of their students. Yet, two courts failed to hold the officials at Chike’s college accountable when they shirked—and outright rejected—this responsibility.
And that has implications far beyond public university campuses.
When courts don’t step in and hold government officials responsible for trampling someone’s constitutional rights, it enables the government to violate someone else’s rights in the future. That which gets rewarded gets repeated.
- The city of Seattle avoided a lawsuit from a landlord by amending an ordinance the night before oral argument in the case and then claiming the case was moot. The city got away with this violation because of it.
- An owner of a nail design studio challenged Connecticut’s COVID-19 response for arbitrary decisions about which businesses were “essential.” The state is attempting to avoid responsibility by claiming new orders make the studio’s challenge no longer relevant.
- A Houston voter wore a fire fighter t-shirt when she went to vote and was told she needed to hide the message of her shirt to vote. When she filed suit, county and state officials tried to dismiss the case because the election was over. Fortunately, a court allowed the case to proceed.
- A Christian prisoner in Illinois requested non-meat meals on Fridays and during Lent. When that was denied, the prisoner stopped eating those meals and lost a significant amount of weight. Three years into the lawsuit, the prison tried to dismiss the case by finally offering a meal plan that fit his religious needs.
That’s why groups across the ideological spectrum agree that the government should be held accountable—and should not get a free pass—for violating constitutional rights.
If it’s not, that threatens freedom for us all.
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