Christian group says NCSU policy violates free-speech rights

Posted June 2

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— A federal judge grilled state attorneys Thursday about the legality of a North Carolina State University policy requiring student groups to obtain a permit to distribute fliers and approach other students in public spaces on campus.

"These are adults, adults on a campus, a state-run campus, and before they can talk with anyone or solicit them in some way like, 'Come join our club,' they have to get a permit?" U.S. District Judge James Dever asked.

Grace Christian Life, a non-denominational church that meets on campus, has sued N.C. State, saying the permit policy violates the group's free-speech rights.

University officials said the policy dates to 1993, and attorneys for the state told Dever that it helps ensure student safety and manage areas such as Talley Student Union as more than 600 student groups jockey for space. The attorneys compared permits to reservations at a restaurant and said it helps university administrators recognize potential safety issues.

Dever asked for an example of a safety issue, but the lawyers couldn't provide one.

The lawyers also weren't able to answer when the judge questioned how the policy is enforced.

Edmund LaCour, the attorney for Grace Christian Life, said N.C. State is trying to "micromanage conversations" between student groups and potential members.

"You have a policy that tries to regulate one-on-one conversations," LaCour said. "It’s clear you can’t have the 'non-permitted-speech police' everywhere on campus, and so, when you have something like that, it will be applied in a discriminatory manner."

He also alleged that N.C. State has singled out Grace Christian Life, arguing that university staff hasn't pushed non-religious student groups to obtain permits.

In a statement, N.C. State denied that the policy discriminates.

"The implication that an organization has been treated differently on our campus because it is a religious group is false," the statement said. "Individuals are, of course, free to engage others in conversations about their faith on campus. That free speech right is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and N.C. State not only protects but also defends the right of free speech for this group and all groups committed to the open exchange of ideas, regardless of viewpoint."

The university said Grace Christian Life has obtained permits for space in Talley Student Union more than 190 times during the 2015-16 academic year and already has reserved space 63 times for 2016-17.

Some N.C. State students said they weren't familiar with the lawsuit, but they questioned the permit policy.

"This is a public university, you know. People have the right to express their opinions, and handing out pamphlets absolutely falls under free speech, freedom of the press," student Conner Anderson said.

Dever said he would decide over this weekend whether N.C. State can continue requiring permits while the lawsuit is pending.


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  • Ken Ackerman Jun 3, 5:39 p.m.
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    I'm all for polite conversation, even polite debate. People tend to be a bit put off when you introduce yourself by yelling in their face though. Perhaps I'm just overly sensitive :)?

    I knew a guy that got into trouble with campus police for pulling a garbage bag over Gary's head.

  • Ken Ackerman Jun 3, 5:30 p.m.
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    I usually invoked his wrath by ignoring him.

  • Ken Ackerman Jun 3, 5:28 p.m.
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    Attitudes like that are exactly why it's a big deal.

    My usual response when they told me I was going to hell was to say, "Well I'll see you there.".

  • Fanny Chmelar Jun 3, 4:27 p.m.
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    That guy was hilarious!
    I remember he was chastising a girl for wearing shorts and that she needed to be in an ankle-length skirt (it was the 90s!). So the girl next to her in one yelled out, "oh, like mine?" and pulled it up to show her underwear.
    Got a great laugh from the crowd.

    I agree with the policy (you can read it yourselves). It helps maintain order when you have nearly 35,000 students in that small of an area. Solicitations can get a bit out of hand (loud, littering, etc., went there, saw it).


  • Terry Lightfoot Jun 3, 1:04 p.m.
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    Their premise - that required permits violate their free speech is a real stretch. Permits apply to any group on campus wanting to organize a table , speak, hand out flyers, etc. Guess they would have to prove beyond doubt that their speech was stifled or suppressed

  • Sheila Moore Jun 3, 10:23 a.m.
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    Freedom of Speech has never been interpreted to mean any type of speech, anywhere you want, any time you want. Thus the old "Yelling Fire in a Crowded Theatre" argument. If Grace Christian Life had permits granted 190 times in a school year, which is only about 160 school days, how can they say their freedom of speech is limited? And does their Freedom of Speech top my right not to be disturbed by people pushing flyers in my way as I walk down the street?

  • Alex Wilson Jun 3, 9:50 a.m.
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    Don't worry to much, I'm sure Donald "Adolph" Drumpf will make sure to suppress even more 1st Amendment rights if he becomes POTUS. He's already trying to control and restrict the media. Religion and speech will be the next on his chopping block.

  • Raleigh Rose Jun 3, 9:38 a.m.
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    You beat me to mentioning Gary Birdsong, the Brickyard Preacher. He had a real problem with women going to school and getting an education. I remember he would call women lesbians if they had on pants. Or you were of loose morals if your shirt was cut too low or if you had on shorts. He screamed in a lot of people's faces and was just plain mean.

    If they are asking all the groups for permits, I don't see a big problem. If they were only asking for permits from certain groups, then I can see the issue or if the school arbitrarily denies some permits. It does seem unnecessary, but it's hardly controlling anyone's free speech.

  • Beauregard Macy Jun 3, 9:24 a.m.
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    Apparently you never met Gary the preacher. He was alive and well in the 90's, standing on his perches by the tunnel, literally pointing at students saying "you are going to burn in hell". Most offenses were due to shorts being too short as I remember. I also recall some 'homersexuls' and other derogatory terms thrown into his eloquent speeches. Yes, he wasn't a student group, I know, but your line about nobody screaming in your face about going to hell brought all those interesting memories back and I HAD to share. ;)

  • Amy Whaley Jun 3, 8:53 a.m.
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    Wow Ken, while I was a student at NCSU in the 80's, I never had someone shove something in my face and scream that I was going to hell. I did witness a lot of groups passing out info, however, the biggest messes were always after a basketball game. I also had many meaningful encounters with strangers when our paths happened to cross. I still do. Life is in the eyes of the beholder.