April 27, 2012 Print

6th Circuit: Campus Preacher’s Rights Were Violated

by Karla Dial

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a Tennessee university violated a campus evangelist’s First Amendment rights by, among other things, forcing him to fill out an application beforehand.

Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville has a policy requiring all outside speakers to seek permission from the school 14 days in advance, including details about themselves and whether they will be speaking on political or religious matters.

John McGlone, a Kentucky resident who often shares his faith on college campuses, was told by the school in 2009 he must confine his activities to a specific patio, and that he’d be arrested if he tried to speak anywhere else. McGlone pointed out that there were no tables or chairs and few students in that area, and asked to use another patio. He spoke with a few students while administrators were checking with higher authorities, and was told by campus police he had to leave or be arrested for trespassing.

A federal district court ruled in 2010 that McGlone had suffered no injury, and that the university’s policy was narrowly tailored.

The 6th Circuit disagreed, saying the policy was too broad and chilled McGlone’s free-speech rights. The case has been sent back to the lower court with directions to reconsider McGlone’s request to have the policy dismantled.

“The First Amendment doesn’t allow you to suppress speech because someone thinks their viewpoint is offensive or disagrees with it,” said Jonathan Scruggs, litigation staff counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund.

Read the 6th Circuit’s ruling.