Supreme Court Weighs Case of College Student Prevented from Handing Out Christian Pamphlets


The Supreme Court on Tuesday considered whether to revive a lawsuit brought by a Georgia college student who sued school officials after being prevented from distributing Christian literature on campus.

The school, Georgia Gwinnett College, has since changed its policies and the student has graduated. A lower court dismissed the case as moot and an appeals court agreed, but the student, Chike Uzuegbunam, is urging the justices to allow the case to move forward.

He’s seeking just $1 and says he wants the Lawrenceville, Georgia, school to be held accountable for its past policies.

Groups across the political spectrum including the ACLU say the case is important in ensuring that people whose constitutional rights were violated can continue their cases even when governments repeal the policies they were challenging.

During arguments, both conservative and liberal justices expressed some concerns with Uzuegbunam’s argument.

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Chief Justice John Roberts suggested to Uzuegbunam’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner of the group Alliance Defending Freedom, that it was problematic that “the only redress you’re asking for is a declaration that you’re right.”

Justice Elena Kagan noted that “people can’t bring a suit for pure vindication alone … for the psychic satisfaction that it gives to hear a court say that.”

Kagan, however, also brought up what she said was the most famous case she could think of in which someone had sought a symbolic $1 in a lawsuit.

In that case, former radio DJ David Mueller sued singer-songwriter Taylor Swift after she accused him of groping her, saying he was falsely accused and lost his job as a result of the allegation. She countersued for $1 alleging sexual assault.

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“That’s what happened. The jury gave her $1,” Kagan said, later adding: “Why isn’t that the same as this? The petitioner here says he was harmed. He wasn’t able to speak when he should have been able to speak. … He’s just asking for $1 to redress that harm.”

Georgia Gwinnett College for years had a restrictive policy that limited where students could make speeches and distribute written materials to two “free speech expression areas.” Students had to get permission to demonstrate, march or pass out leaflets in other areas. The school has approximately 12,000 students.

In 2016, Uzuegbunam was distributing Christian pamphlets and talking to students on campus when a security guard told him he’d need to make a reservation and distribute the literature in one of the college’s two speech zones.

When Uzuegbunam did so, he was told that there had been complaints and that he’d need to stop.

Uzuegbunam and another student, Joseph Bradford, sued, and the college changed its policy in 2017.

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Students can now demonstrate or distribute literature anywhere and at any time on campus without having to first obtain a permit. The only time a group needs a permit is if it expects 30 or more people to participate. The college has said it won’t go back to its old policy.

Uzuegbunam has the support of the Trump administration as well as a host of religious groups.

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