On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, NRB Member Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys presented oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Chike Uzuebunam, a former student at Georgia Gwinnett College.
On two different occasions in 2016, college officials silenced Uzuebunam when he tried to share his faith with other students on campus. The first time college officials approached Uzuebunam when he was publicly sharing his faith, they told him that he must reserve one of the two “speech zones” on campus and that he could only publicly share his faith on campus in those locations during reserved times.
Although he understood this as a violation of his First Amendment rights, Uzuebunam followed all the proper protocol to reserve a “speech zone” on campus for an allocated amount of time. He began sharing the gospel publicly in this space and was once again approached by campus police who ordered him to stop speaking because someone had complained. Officers took his ID card and threatened him with discipline if he continued speaking the gospel publicly on campus.
ADF argued for Uzuebunam in some lower courts, which eventually resulted in the college making some minor changes to its speech policies. A lower court ruled that since the college changed its policies and Uzuebunam had graduated from the university, he was ineligible to receive any relief from the court.
Over four years after this incident, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Uzuebunam’s case. Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel Kristen Waggoner argued in Uzuebunam v. Preczewski last Tuesday before the Supreme Court.
“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.”
During the hearing, many of the justices acknowledged that “nominal damages” are often the best way to provide a court remedy.
“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.”