Former Georgia Gwinnett students agree to $800,000 lawsuit settlement

Attorneys representing Georgia Gwinnett College reached a settlement of more than $800,000 in a lawsuit regarding students' free speech rights. The college has made changes it believes make it easier for any group to hold an event on its campus. (Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Attorneys representing Georgia Gwinnett College reached a settlement of more than $800,000 in a lawsuit regarding students' free speech rights. The college has made changes it believes make it easier for any group to hold an event on its campus. (Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Two former Georgia Gwinnett College students have agreed to a settlement of more than $800,000 stemming from complaints that the school violated their First Amendment speech rights on campus, attorneys representing the students announced Wednesday.

The dispute began more than five years ago when a campus police officer told then-student Chike Uzuegbunam he couldn’t distribute written materials expressing his Christian faith at an outdoor plaza near the campus library. The college said it had two other free speech expression areas on campus for such activities. Uzuegbunam sued in 2016. Another student, Joseph Bradford, who also wanted to preach on campus, later joined the case as a plaintiff.

The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in March 2021 that Uzuegbunam could seek nominal damages even though the college has since made changes it believes make it easier for any group to hold an event on its campus. The Supreme Court left the decision for whether Bradford could receive nominal damages to a lower court.

The settlement was finalized last week, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based organization that focuses on protecting religious freedom and free speech that represented the students.

“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 Travis Barham, senior counsel at the alliance.

“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,” Barham added.

A spokeswoman for the college referred questions about the settlement to the University System of Georgia. A system spokeswoman referred inquiries to the state attorney general’s office, which handled the case. A request for comment from that office wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.