By Hunter Hines and L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 21, 2016
RALEIGH – Early last month, the Christian Action League reported that a student ministry, Grace Christian Life, struck a blow for the First Amendment when U.S. District Court Judge James Dever ordered North Carolina State University (NCSU) to stop enforcing a school policy limiting free speech.
Dever released his injunction only two days after hearing the case, saying the merits of the claim by the student ministry were so strong that it was in the public’s best interest.
This week, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who argued the case for the student ministry in court, announced that NCSU had settled the case and would no longer censor the free speech of its students. In lieu of the university’s new policy, ADF said that the student group was withdrawing their lawsuit, Grace Christian Life v. Woodson.
You can access the settlement by clicking here.
The student ministry had filed the suit after members were told that they needed a permit to speak about their faith with other students in the student union at the University. Grace Christian Life obtained the necessary permit, but was later instructed that they could only speak with other students if they stayed behind their club table, a restriction not necessary for other groups.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said, “The University was wrong to require students to get a permit before they could speak – something that not only violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but also belies the very premise of a higher institution of learning – a place where views of all sorts should be welcomed.”
“More often than not these public educational institutions don’t actually value what made America great,” said Dr. Creech, “instead they undermine it.”
“In my estimation, it was egregious enough they were targeting a faith-based group, but whether written material or oral speech it should be unlawful for anyone – period,” he added.
In a news release, ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said, “Students of any religious, political, or ideological persuasion should be able to freely and peacefully speak with their fellow students about their views without interference from university officials who may prefer one view over another. N.C. State did the right thing in revising its policy to reflect this instead of continuing to defend its previous policy, which was not constitutionally defensible.”
According to ADF, the settlement changes the University’s solicitation policy that required a permit for any form of commercial or non-commercial speech. The new policy does not require a permit for non-commercial speech. The settlement also includes a provision requiring NCSU to pay $72,500 in attorney’s fees to Grace Christian Life’s attorneys.
A recent study by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), found that 49.3 percent of 440 of the nation’s top colleges and universities surveyed maintain policies that “seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students.”
The FIRE report says that 7 of the 19 North Carolina institutions examined by the FIRE report earned a “red light,” meaning that they have at least one policy both clearly and substantially restricting freedom of speech, or that they bar public access to their speech-related policies by requiring logins and passwords. Twelve others were given a “yellow light” to show that they maintain “policies that could be interpreted to suppress protected speech or policies that, while clearly restricting freedom of speech, restrict only narrow categories of speech.”
In the same ADF news release mentioned earlier in this report, Senior Counsel David Hacker argued that University officials waste tax-payer money when they attempt to defend unconstitutional policies and force students to take a stand for their constitutionally protected rights.
“We hope the outcome of this lawsuit will serve as a deterrent to other universities who may be contemplating defending or implementing bad policies. All university policies should be consistent with both the First Amendment and the mission of those institutions to be a robust marketplace of ideas, which benefits everyone,” said Hacker.
This now seems to be the position of NCSU. In a letter on the NCSU website, Chancellor Randy Woodson writes, “The bottom line is that free speech remains alive and well at NC State; this university remains an environment that fosters and enables the healthy and free exchange of ideas and viewpoints by our students and community. And in the same manner, we are always open to discussion with the campus community about improving campus policies and procedures.”