On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a former Christian college student who sought to hold his school accountable for violating his First Amendment rights when he was enrolled.
Chike Uzuegbunam was a junior at the public Georgia Gwinnett College in 2016, when he attempted to share the Gospel on campus and was informed by college police that he needed to restrict such activities to a free speech zone and plan them prior with the administration.
Uzuegbunam complied with all the necessary paperwork, he was told again by campus police that he couldn’t share the Gospel on campus at all.
When challenged by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the college changed their policies, and two lower courts had determined that they were not responsible for damages for past constitutional violations.
Uzuegbnam and the ADF were seeking a symbolic $1 in damages, as the attorneys “argued that a final judicial decision is necessary to remedy past harm, prevent future misconduct, and vindicate priceless freedoms,” as ADF.com explains.
The SCOTUS agreed—8-1, with only Chief Justice John Roberts dissenting, the first time in 15 years a chief justice has been the lone dissenter.
BREAKING: Supreme Court: Govt officials must be held accountable when violating constitutional rights
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends) March 8, 2021
“The Supreme Court has rightly affirmed that government officials should be held accountable for the injuries they cause. When public officials violate constitutional rights, it causes serious harm to the victims,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case before the Supreme Court.
“Groups representing diverse ideological viewpoints supported our clients because the threat to our constitutionally protected freedoms doesn’t stop with free speech rights or a college campus. When government officials engage in misconduct without consequences, it leaves victims without recourse, undermines the nation’s commitment to protecting constitutional rights, and emboldens the government to engage in future violations. We are pleased that the Supreme Court weighed in on the side of justice for those victims.”
ADF explained that Georgia Gwinnett officials had been warned that their free speech policies violated students’ constitutional rights in 2013, and did not act.
So when in 2016 the policies were used in an attempt to suppress the rights of Uzuegbunam, he filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
“For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against Him,” the court wrote in its decision.
“Because ‘every violation [of a right] imports damage…,’ nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.”
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