The Alliance Defending Freedom legal organization has notched another victory for a Christian student who was censored by an institute of higher learning.
Georgia Gwinnett College will pay $800,000 to Christian student Chike Uzuegbunam after campus police stopped him from talking about his faith and distributing faith-based literature on campus in 2016, the legal group announced on Wednesday.
ADF described the case this way:
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, but the Supreme Court decided to hear Chike’s case and ruled in his favor.
In December, a federal district court ruled that government officials can’t sidestep the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which was decided in March 2021. The highest court concluded that they can be held liable for violating constitutionally protected freedoms, and as such, the former student’s lawsuit should proceed on those merits.
But rather than continue fighting at that point, Georgia Gwinnett College opted instead to settle with Uzuegbunam, paying nominal damages and attorney’s fees that totaled more than $800,000. Also, the college has since changed its unconstitutional policies, ADF’s statement said.
“This settlement represents a victory not only for Chike and Joseph but also for many other students who wish to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms on the campuses of Georgia’s public colleges and universities,” said ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham.
“For five years, Georgia Gwinnett College officials have tried again and again to dodge accountability for their illegal actions in violating Chike’s and Joseph’s rights, even after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked them,” Barham continued.
“But after the district court put a stop to that, the college has finally decided to stop fighting the Constitution. This case should also remind other colleges and universities nationwide of the need to respect their students’ liberties. If they do not, they can and will be held accountable,” he added.
“We are pleased that the wrong done to our clients has been righted,” noted ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.
“The Supreme Court saw the importance of addressing these legal violations on the merits, and so did the district court. Hopefully, this settlement will send a signal to college and university officials nationwide that students do not lose their constitutional rights at the campus gates, and that anyone who ignores these priceless freedoms can be held to account,” Langhofer added.
The press release noted that lawyers for the university filed paperwork on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, to officially end the lawsuit.