Court hears arguments in Georgia campus speech dispute

Dec. 3, 2013 - Lawrenceville - Building "B", the signature building on campus, designed by Atlanta architect John Portman, includes classrooms and administrative offices.  Enrollment at Georgia Gwinnett College has expanded from 118 students its first semester to more than 9,700 enrollees this fall. Behind the success is an infusion of $118 million in special tax funds.  Critics call the funds an unfair benefit for a school that has an influential, politically connected group of backers, many who sit on the college's non-profit foundation board.   BOB ANDRES  / BANDRES@AJC.COM
caption arrowCaption
Dec. 3, 2013 - Lawrenceville - Building "B", the signature building on campus, designed by Atlanta architect John Portman, includes classrooms and administrative offices. Enrollment at Georgia Gwinnett College has expanded from 118 students its first semester to more than 9,700 enrollees this fall. Behind the success is an infusion of $118 million in special tax funds. Critics call the funds an unfair benefit for a school that has an influential, politically connected group of backers, many who sit on the college's non-profit foundation board. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Attorneys representing students who say Georgia Gwinnett College violated their freedom of expression rights argued their case Tuesday before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The dispute began in 2016 when a student, Chike Uzuegbunam, filed the lawsuit against the college in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, arguing his free speech rights were violated. Uzuegbunam said a college official told him he couldn’t distribute fliers sharing his Christian faith where he was standing on campus. The college had two “free speech expression areas,” which his attorneys described as “tiny.” Another student, Joseph Bradford, who also wanted to preach on campus, joined the case as a plaintiff.

The case drew headlines when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a 26-page "statement of interest" in support of the students.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in June 2018 saying the school resolved the main issues that sparked the legal challenge. The judge, Eleanor L. Ross, agreed with the college's motion to dismiss, noting it has since changed its campus speech policy to make it easier for students, guest speakers and organizations to speak on campus.

ExploreRELATED CONTENT: Campus speech bill gets approval from Georgia General Assembly

Travis Barham, an attorney representing the students, said Tuesday the appeal was made to address whether the college violated the speech rights of the students.

“We believe the college has to make amends for the unconstitutional enforcement of its policies against our clients,” Barham, a Lawrenceville-based attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the hearing.

A ruling may not be made for several months, Barham said.

Bradford is still a student at the college while Uzuegbunam has graduated, said Barham.

About the Author

Editors' Picks