Thursday, April 8, 2021 : By Chike Uzuegbunam
Chike Uzuegbunam is an evangelist who, while in college, was told he could not preach on campus. Partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom, Uzuegbunam fought this violation of his religious rights all the way to the Supreme Court where he was victorious. Read more about his story here.
Growing up, I heard countless stories from my parents about the wonderful freedoms they enjoyed here in America. My parents immigrated to America from Nigeria, and they wanted us to understand why: because they believed that America respects and protects our God-given rights — including the right to live and share our beliefs freely. They taught us that true freedom is a rare gift, and they raised us to cherish and protect that gift.
But my school, Georgia Gwinnett College, appears to hold a different vision of America. There, I didn’t have the freedom to share my beliefs and convictions with others, as college officials stopped me from doing so twice. At that moment, I had to decide which vision of America I was going to follow: the one my parents gave me, of a nation that protected my God-given rights, or the one from my college, which denied me those rights.
The case started when officials at Georgia Gwinnett College stopped me from publicly speaking about my Christian faith on campus. I was a new Christian, and I wanted to share with my fellow GGC students what Jesus Christ was doing in my life. The open areas of campus, where students gathered daily to discuss and share opinions about all kinds of ideas, seemed like the perfect place, so I started going to the public areas of campus and inviting other students to chat with me.
But an administrator approached me where I was speaking and told me — and only me — to stop speaking. Even as other conversations buzzed around me, the administrator told me that in order to speak, I would have to reserve a time to speak in one of two “speech zones.”
These zones were a tiny fraction of campus — roughly comparable to a piece of paper on a football field — and they were only open 10 percent of the week. But I tried to follow the policy. I made a reservation and came to speak. But after only a few minutes, two campus police officers approached me and told me to stop talking. They claimed that someone had complained (why, I was never told) and that therefore I did not have the right to speak — even within the so-called “speech zones.”
I knew this was not right. I knew that every American’s God-given right to freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution itself, and that includes protecting our freedom to discuss things we may not always agree about. Indeed, this freedom of speech is the foundation of all other rights. Government officials like my college’s administrators cannot take that freedom away.
So, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, I decided to sue Georgia Gwinnett College for violating my freedoms of speech and religion.
I did not sue the college simply for my own rights. I wanted to make sure that other students would not face similar censorship. And the more I looked into the situation, the more I learned about how government officials all over the country try to trample on, ignore, and suppress Americans’ God-given freedoms. This must stop, and I hope this lawsuit will help stop it.
For a long time, though, it did not look like I was going to get justice. First, the college officials tried to deny that I had any free speech rights at all; they suggested that presenting the Gospel was not speech that the First Amendment protects. Then they switched tactics and tried to avoid accountability. They revised the unconstitutional policies that they used to silence me and claimed that since they’d changed the policies, they did not need to apologize or make restitution.
And unfortunately, two lower courts agreed, leaving me with no recourse. By this time, I had graduated, and those opportunities to share my faith with my fellow students were gone forever. The damage for me was permanent. But the college insisted — and the courts agreed — that this did not matter.
But thankfully, the Supreme Court agreed to hear my case. In the months leading up to the hearing, I was amazed to see organizations from across the ideological spectrum standing up and supporting me.
It quickly became clear that Georgia Gwinnett College is not the only example of government officials treating our constitutional rights with disdain. A growing number of government leaders seem to think that they can violate rights, and that, if they are called out, they can simply change the problematic policies and avoid accountability. When people heard about my case — even many people who do not agree with my convictions — they joined me in asking the Supreme Court to hold my college accountable.
And in January 2021, the Supreme Court chose to do just that. In an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled in my favor, saying that government officials can be held accountable to the victim when they violate our constitutional rights.
When I heard the ruling, I was amazed and humbled by how my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had used my case to protect freedom across this country. After all, that is what my parents taught me to believe America is about: opportunities and true freedom for all people, no matter what they believe.
This article is part of the Standing for Freedom Center’s Spring journal, Equality: A Dream for Patriots, a Mask for Tyranny.