Press Release

Supreme Court to decide the value of First Amendment rights Case will determine if religious people can receive justice for past wrongs

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 media@becketlaw.org

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – What is the price tag on constitutional rights? Becket has just filed a brief at the Supreme Court in support of a college student who was threatened with arrest by police at Georgia Gwinnett College when he tried to share his faith with his classmates. In Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, two campus police officers told Chike Uzuegbunam they would arrest him for disturbing the peace if he continued to speak and share religious literature with his classmates – even though Uzuegbunam was standing inside one of the college’s tiny “free speech zones” at the time, which make up less than 0.0015% of campus.

When Uzuegbunam and another student sued, school officials changed their policy and asked the court to dismiss the case without ruling against them. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said that Uzuegbunam’s case was moot because he asked for only token damages to vindicate his rights instead of demanding heavy compensatory damages for the college’s discrimination. Becket’s brief argues that governments should not be allowed use legal loopholes like this to escape justice.

Uzuegbunam sued the school, asking for an acknowledgement that the school had violated his rights and a ruling to prevent it from happening again. The school vigorously defended its actions in court, but then changed its policy and asked the court to dismiss Uzuegbunam’s case without ruling on whether Georgia Gwinnett had violated the law. Lower courts dismissed the case, saying that Uzuegbunam’s case was no longer live since Uzuegbunam had graduated and wasn’t asking for compensatory damages from the school.

“Georgia Gwinnett campus police threatened to arrest Mr. Uzuegbunam for exercising a core First Amendment right—peacefully and respectfully sharing his faith,” said Adèle Keim, counsel at Becket. “The college can’t just walk away and pretend nothing happened.”

Uzuegbunam is part of a concerning trend: government bureaucracies, when sued for unconstitutional behavior, revise their policies and then argue that the court should never rule on whether they violated anyone’s rights.

Governments that violate individuals’ constitutional rights shouldn’t get away with it on a technicality. This fall, the Supreme Court will determine if schools, prisons, and other government bureaucracies can escape justice through temporary policy changes or if students, inmates, and other Americans will have their fundamental rights protected from abuse.

Bureaucrats shouldn’t get to tell victims of civil rights violations Heads, I win, tails, you lose,’” said Keim. “The Supreme Court should say, ‘No’ to governments that try to paper over violations of peoples’ fundamental rights.”  

Chike Uzuegbunam and Joseph Bradford are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.