Building "B", the signature building on the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. AJC FILE PHOTO
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Court hears arguments in Georgia campus speech dispute

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.

RELATED 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.

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