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Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

From July 2015 to March 2021
Georgia Gwinnett College (Public college or university)
Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

Identity of Speakers

  • Chike Uzuegbunam
    Student
    Other

    Chike Uzuegbunam was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College and a practicing Christian.

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Pamphleteering
  • Incident Responses:
    University administration not protective of speech
    University administration changes university policy as a consequence of event
    Campus police
  • Incident Status:
    Other
  • No protest Occured
  • Was Speech Code incident

Summary

Chike Uzuegbunam was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public university in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Uzuegbunam was a Christian and desired to speak publicly about his religious beliefs. In July 2016, Uzuegbunam distributed literature in an open, outdoor area outside of the University’s library. After a short time, a member of the campus police department approached him and explained that he was in violation of the University’s “Freedom of Expression Policy” and was not allowed to distribute literature or engage in public expression outside of the University’s two designated free speech zones. The officer brought Uzuegbunam inside of the library to meet with a University official, who confirmed that he was in violation of the “Freedom of Expression Policy” and explained that he would only be granted access to the free speech zones if he reserved them in advance through the Office of Student Integrity.

In August 2016, Uzuegbunam reserved one of the designated free speech zones in order to distribute literature and preach his religious beliefs. He submitted a request to the Office of Student Integrity and was granted permission to use the zone on August 25, 2016. On the appointed date, Uzuegbunam went to the Free Speech Zone and began to preach while standing on a stool. About 20 minutes into his session, Uzuegbunam was again approached by a member of the campus police, who informed him that the University had received multiple phone calls complaining about his speech. The officer then contacted the Office of Student Integrity and then informed Uzuegbunam that he was again in violation of the “Freedom of Expression Policy.” The officer explained that Uzuegbunam’s preaching constituted “open-air expression” and that this constituted “disorderly conduct” because he had only reserved the area for the purpose of handing out literature. Uzuegbunam left the area without incident.

On December 16, 2016, Uzuegbunam filed a § 1983 action in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, against various University officials, challenging the University’s “Freedom of Expression Policy” under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Before the case was heard, on February 28, 2017, the University substantially amended the policy such that students would be allowed to speak anywhere on campus without having to obtain a permit from the University. The district court then granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint for mootness. On July 1, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling, finding that Uzuegbunam’s claim no longer constituted a live case or controversy as his claim was moot and he had failed to allege that he was entitled to compensatory damages. On March 8, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed and remanded, holding that a request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element necessary for Article III standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right.