Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

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.


Broad support at US Supreme Court for holding govt officials accountable when they violate rights

Highly diverse array of groups file friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of two former Georgia Gwinnett College students
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

 

Client sound bite:  Chike Uzuegbunam

WASHINGTON – Groups spanning the ideological spectrum have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of two former Georgia Gwinnett College students seeking to vindicate their constitutionally protected freedoms. The parties supporting the former students include both progressive and conservative public interest legal organizations, student groups, academic freedom experts, and the United States government, as well as atheist, Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim groups.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, to challenge the college’s enforcement of policies restricting student expression. After being sued, the college argued that the First Amendment did not protect the students’ religious speech. The college later amended its unconstitutional speech policies but did nothing to rectify its mistreatment of the students, and lower courts declined to do anything about it.

“As the diverse groups who submitted briefs in this case agree, courts should hold government officials accountable when they violate First Amendment freedoms. The government is supposed to protect those freedoms, not take them away,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who will argue the case before the Supreme Court. “People from a wide variety of viewpoints support our clients because they realize the threat to our constitutionally protected freedoms doesn’t stop with free speech rights or one college campus. They all agree that government officials should not get a free pass for violating constitutional rights on campus and elsewhere. When these officials trample those rights but face no consequences for their abuse, it tells the victim that his rights don’t matter and emboldens the government to engage in future violations.”

Chike Uzuegbunam
In 2016, college officials stopped student Chike Uzuegbunam not once, but twice, from peacefully sharing his Christian faith with fellow students in a public area of the college’s Lawrenceville, Georgia, campus. First, officials required Uzuegbunam to get advance permission to use one of two tiny speech zones that were open less than 10% of the week and made up far less than 1% of the campus—the equivalent of a piece of paper on a football field. So Uzuegbunam obtained permission and reserved a time. But when he began sharing his faith in a speech zone, two police officers stopped him, told him someone complained about his speech, and demanded his ID, which they took back to their patrol car. The officers then said if Uzuegbunam continued to share his faith publicly, he would face discipline. Uzuegbunam stopped speaking, and another student did not speak at all after seeing how officials treated Uzuegbunam.

Two federal courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, declined to address whether the college violated the students’ First Amendment rights. They said that constitutional violations are not worth addressing after officials change their policies unless the violations caused a financial injury. Most federal courts would have still issued a ruling. Like the opening brief that ADF attorneys representing Uzuegbunam recently filed with the Supreme Court, the friend-of-the-court briefs argue that a final judicial decision is necessary to prevent future misconduct, ensure that government officials are held accountable for actual legal violations, and vindicate priceless freedoms.

As a cross-ideological brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Institute for Justice states, “civil-rights plaintiffs in myriad constitutional contexts, and of all political persuasions and beliefs, share one common thread: they have suffered real harms that transcend easy price tags…. The Eleventh Circuit’s outlier rule…would enable governmental actors to evade accountability for their unconstitutional policies.”

“A plaintiff ordinarily suffers a judicially cognizable injury-in-fact when his personal legal rights are infringed, regardless of whether there are consequential harms that flow from the invasion that can be proven and quantified. In fact, abridgements of the freedom of speech, as petitioners allege here, are paradigmatic [constitutional] injuries,” the United States through the Department of Justice explains in its brief, adding that the Constitution “does not permit the defendant to avoid adjudication of the lawfulness of its past conduct if it is not willing to provide the plaintiff with the legally authorized redress for the injury caused by that conduct.”

“Religion Clause violations rarely produce actual damages and often stem from easily mootable laws. Taking away from citizens the only remedy available in many such cases jeopardizes the rule of law itself…,” the American Humanist Association wrote in its brief. “Now is not the time to tell citizens their First Amendment rights do not matter. Now is the time to instill confidence in an anxious America and celebrate a constitutional heritage strong enough to unite the likes of the AHA and ADF.”
 
  • 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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Friend-of-the-court briefs filed with U.S. Supreme Court


Additional resources: Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Previous news releases:

  • 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:

  • 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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