College in Georgia Bans Christian Preaching & Labels the Gospel as “Fighting Words”
The subtle, insidious legal attack on Christianity in public schools continues. Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college intended to a be a hub of idea diversity and free speech, recently removed a Christian student from campus for preaching the Gospel in a designated “free speech zone.” The school deemed Chike Uzuegbunam’s discussion of his faith to be “fighting words,” which “incite hostility.”
A First Amendment Lawsuit
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Uzuegbunam has filed a lawsuit against the school, saying that it forcefully violated his unalienable, First Amendment birthright to free speech.
Georgia Gwinnett College filed a motion in early April to dismiss the case, touting its commitments to “diversity” and “open communication.” Indeed, according to U.S. News and World Report, the student body is the most diverse of any college in the southern region. As of Fall 2014, 91 nations were represented in the student body.
But having a diverse student body and permitting the expression of diverse opinions are two different matters. The college confines free speech to two minuscule zones that make up less than .0015 percent of campus and are only available 18 hours per week, according to ADF.
The school goes even farther to limit speech, forcing students to submit a “free speech area request” form three days in advance and submit any relevant literature that they want to distribute on campus to administrators.
These onerous requirements have the effect of silencing students. Let’s say that there’s a major, urgent political or religious dispute in the U.S. (as has been happening all the time lately), and students want to express their opinions publicly. Even if they submit all the proper materials to the school, the soonest they can express their opinions is three days later–which may be too late.
And the school’s edicts have teeth. It’s not all bark and no bite. In fact, if students violate these requirements, they risk expulsion.
So what does the First Amendment really say?
The First Amendment guarantees the rights to freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition–even to students. Since the ratification of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has made very few exceptions to the almost universal guarantee of free speech.
One such exemption is “fighting words,” which the Supreme Court defines as speech that “tend[s] to incite an immediate breach of the peace” by provoking a fight. It is “personally abusive [words]” that “as a matter of common knowledge” are “likely to provoke a violent reaction.”
But Georgia Gwinnett College doesn’t cite any fights or any specific, abusive words. Their restrictions on speech appear to be overly burdensome. And if there’s one thing the federal courts don’t like, it is unnecessary restriction on free speech.
Georgia Gwinnett College is one of many campuses that have recently come under fire for restricting speech–especially religious speech. The Christian Post reports that last summer, South Carolina’s Clemson University reportedly removed a Christian evangelist from campus for praying for students in designated free speech areas.
The student was sitting on a bench with a sign that said “Prayer,” quietly praying for students who curiously sat down next to him and asked him to pray. Eventually, a university official approached the student and told that him he could not pray there, informing him that he needed to leave.
Perhaps modern-day Christian persecution in the West is subtle and stealthy encroachments on religious speech. It might seem harmless at first, but over time the effects are far-reaching. To defend religious speech, apathy and inaction is not an option.
As 2 Timothy 1:8 advises, “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord … but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” We stand in solidarity with Uzuegbunam and other students like him who bravely express their faith in hostile environments and defend their freedom of speech when others try to stop them.