Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) has attempted to dispel a lawsuit filed by a Christian student, who was reportedly prevented from sharing his faith on campus, by saying the student's preaching "rose to the level of 'fighting words.'"
GGC was sued by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of student Chike Uzuegbunam in December after the school repeatedly prohibited the student from discussing his Christian faith on campus, even after he received permission to do so in one of the school's free speech zones.
ADF noted that the two free-speech zones constitute "less than 0.0015 percent" of the campus and that it is open to students only for 18 hours a week.
According to the lawsuit, Uzuegbunam had been informed by the school that he is not allowed to distribute religious pamphlets outside of the school's library because it was not a designated free-speech zone.
When the student followed the proper procedures and reserved space in a free-speech zone, Uzuegbunam was told to stop because his speech had apparently "generated complaints" and constituted "disorderly conduct," Campus Reform reported.
ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barnham remarked that the college touts its commitments to "diversity" and "open communications" while it confines the speech of the students to "two ridiculously small speech zones and then censors the speech that occurs in those areas."
According to the ADF, the school has filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying Uzuegbunam's "open-air speaking" rose "to the level of 'fighting words.'" GGC cited two previous cases in which street preachers were found to have used fighting words by referring to people as "sinners."
The college has argued that the Uzuegbunam "used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility."
In response to GCC's argument, the ADF filed a brief on April 7 saying "identical bids to limit broad speech code language to fighting words have failed," and that the school's policies are an unconstitutional form of content-based restriction of speech.
"Defendants' proposal would still give unbridled discretion, and viewpoint-based limits on fighting words are unconstitutional," the brief stated.
"Defendants' speech code is the antithesis of 'precise and objective,' is viewpoint-based, and is thus illegal in any forum," it added.