Skip to main content
Hero Image

In North Carolina, an Effort to Silence the Voice of Student Faith

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

How would you feel if, before bringing up a religious topic with friends at dinner, or inviting, say, your next door neighbor to an Easter service at your church, you had to apply for a license from your local city officials?

Substitute “campus administrators” for “city officials,” and you have the situation that last week inspired a Christian student group at North Carolina State University to file a federal lawsuit against the school.

Last fall, NC State officials told students with Grace Christian Life – a student organization registered with the university – that, without a permit, they must stop engaging other students in the Talley Student Union in informal conversations about religion, and desist from inviting them to attend Grace Christian Life events.

“Well, if that’s the school’s policy,” you may be thinking, “I guess they have a right to enforce it.” And, yes, it is their policy – but one that officials are enforcing very selectively, depending on how much they agree with a given group’s particular message.

Take Grace Christian Life, for instance. The club’s members obtained a permit to set up a table in the student union. At the time, they were told they could speak with other students from behind the table or anywhere in the room. But once the table was set up, and club members began circulating around the room, a member of the Student Involvement Office came up to say they’d have to stay behind the table.

Curiously, on that same day, as well as several others, Grace Christian Life members noted that representatives of other clubs were talking about their themes and handing out literature all over the student union. But NC State allowed these clubs to leave their tables and engage with students … and the watchdog from the Student Involvement Office said nothing to them at all.

“The courts have well established that a public university can’t require permits in this manner for this kind of speech – and certainly can’t enforce such rules selectively,” says Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel David Hacker. “Unconstitutional censorship is bad enough, but giving university officials complete discretion to decide when and where to engage in silencing students makes the violation even worse.”

“Public universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas,” says ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, “not places where students need a permit just to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms. The only permit needed to engage in free speech is the First Amendment.”

ADF attorneys, in conjunction with ADF Allied Attorney Edmund LaCour of Bancroft PLLC, are representing Grace Christian Life in its lawsuit, asking the court to invalidate the university’s highly selective (and highly subjective) policy. I ask you to be in prayer for their efforts – not only for the sake of the students at North Carolina State …

… but for all those students in colleges and universities, high school, junior high, and elementary schools all over the country whose faithful, graceful, low-pressure efforts to live out their faith and speak God’s truth are being abridged, bridled, and constrained by under-informed, overly cautious school officials more attuned to political correctness than they are to the Constitution.

This kind of censorship is not just illegal – it’s teaching our young people that their faith is something to be ashamed of. It’s telling them that God should be kept behind closed doors, at church or at home. It’s persuading them that the truth of the Gospel can’t hold up in the harsh light of a hostile culture.

And it’s costing countless lost and searching young people what may be their best chance to find salvation in Jesus Christ.

That’s a lot to lose – which is why it’s so vital that we win these cases, and why it’s so important that you strengthen our efforts with your prayers.

“Abridge.” “Bridle.” “Constrain.” These are the new “abc”s being drilled into our Christian children and grandchildren by the often frightened, agnostic teachers and administrators of their campuses nationwide. Here’s to teaching students of all ages a better phonics – tuning their ears anew to the sound of freedom, the grammar of courage, and the vocabulary of faith.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.