Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Description:  In 2016, Georgia Gwinnett College officials stopped student Chike Uzuegbunam not once, but twice, from peacefully sharing his Christian faith with fellow students on his college campus. First, officials said he had to get advance permission to use one of two tiny speech zones that made up far less than 1% of the campus and were only open 10% of the week. Despite following these policies, Chike was again prevented from speaking. After ADF challenged the unconstitutional policies, Georgia Gwinnett argued that Chike’s speech should receive no constitutional protection, changed its policy, and claimed it should be able to avoid any penalty for violating Chike’s free speech rights. Two courts agreed. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Chike’s case.


Oral arguments completed at US Supreme Court in pivotal case on govt accountability

ADF attorneys represent Chike Uzuegbunam
Tuesday, January 12, 2021

 
WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel Kristen Waggoner argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a case that asks whether government officials, including those at public colleges, will be accountable to victims when they violate constitutional rights.

“Our constitutional rights are invaluable and must always be protected,” said Waggoner. “When government officials treat our rights as worthless, those rights disappear. Changing unconstitutional policies is an important first step. But policy changes alone do not remedy the harm done to those whose rights were violated by the government.”

The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Chike Uzuegbunam and Joseph Bradford, who were stopped by Georgia Gwinnett College officials from sharing their faith publicly on campus in the summer of 2016. Officials later changed their policies, then claimed that was enough to end the students’ lawsuit, even though the officials never did anything to remedy the past free-speech violations.

Many of the justices’ questions recognized that “nominal damages” are often the best way to provide a court remedy—in many contexts. For example, Justice Elena Kagan raised musical artist Taylor Swift’s recent sexual assault case, where she asked for $1 in damages because she did not want money, only a judgment that announced the harm done to her and other women. Justice Stephen Breyer asked how the court should remedy past harm, such as a college not allowing a student to pray or to speak on campus. And Justice Brett Kavanaugh rightly stated that history, common law, Supreme Court case law, and the law in the other circuit courts of appeal all work against the college’s position. Nominal damages draw the proper line to protect constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court was also concerned with the college’s argument that a violation of a constitutional right was less valuable than even a 25-cent bus fare. The college argued that the loss of bus fare was sufficient to keep a case alive, but the past violation of free speech was not.

“Not everything of great value is monetary,” Waggoner said.

Chike Uzuegbunam
“Colleges and universities are supposed to be places where we are free to explore and debate ideas, but my college silenced me and are getting away with it,” said Uzuegbunam. “Now that they have heard my story, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will affirm my rights and the rights of all Americans, and that courts should hold officials accountable for violating our constitutional rights.”

Groups across the ideological spectrum—including the ACLU, the Cato Institute, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and a wide range of other groups—filed legal briefs in support of this case.
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Chike Uzuegbunam (CHEE’-kay Oo-zah-BUN’-um), Preczewski (Preh-SHEV’-skee)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
 
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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Previous news releases:

  • 2021-01-11: US Supreme Court to hear arguments on whether govt officials can be held accountable for violating constitutional rights
  • 2020-09-30: Broad support at US Supreme Court for holding govt officials accountable when they violate rights
  • 2020-09-22: Former GA students urge Supreme Court to hold govt officials accountable when they violate rights
  • 2020-07-09: US Supreme Court takes case of college students denied justice by lower courts
  • 2020-03-06: Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Catholics file support at US Supreme Court for student free speech rights
  • 2020-01-31: ADF to Supreme Court: Students deserve justice in free speech suit against Georgia college
  • 2019-05-13: ADF to 11th Circuit: Students deserve justice in free speech suit against Georgia college
  • 2018-06-25: Not so fast: ADF appeals case against Ga. college, argues students’ free speech suit isn’t moot
  • 2017-09-26: US weighs in for censored Christian student in Georgia
  • 2016-12-20: Georgia college sued for censoring student speech, restricting it to 0.0015% of campus

Commentary:

  • Tyson Langhofer: U.S. Supreme Court should hold Georgia Gwinnett College accountable (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2021-01-12)
  • Chike Uzuegbunam: My college tried to stop me from speaking about religion. Now, we’ll meet in the Supreme Court. (Washington Post, 2021-01-11)
  • John Bursch: SCOTUS to decide whether constitutional rights can be violated without consequence (The Hill, 2021-01-11)
  • Ryan Everson: SCOTUS campus free speech case unites adversaries in polarized times (College Fix, 2020-10-28)
  • Ellie Wittman & Bernadette Tasy: Free speech won at colleges in California and Ohio. It should win in Georgia, too. (Daily Signal, 2020-10-22)
  • Kristen Waggoner: ADF: Supreme Court should rule to protect free speech on campus; this egregious case shows why (Daily Wire, 2020-10-09)
  • John Bursch: Supreme Court to decide if constitutional rights are only valuable when a price tag is on them (Washington Times, 2020-07-15)
  • Sarah Kramer: For sharing Gospel, college student has sought justice for 3 years (My Christian Daily, 2020-06-01)
  • Travis Barham: Georgia college remains unchastened for saying handing out pamphlets is ‘disorderly conduct’ (The Federalist, 2020-04-27)
  • Chike Uzuegbunam: Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Catholics all asking Supreme Court to defend rights my college violated (Daily Wire, 2020-04-07)
  • John Bursch: Constitutional rights are priceless—someone should tell the 11th Circuit (The Hill, 2020-02-18)

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