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Student Sues NCSU Over Speech Permit Policy

If you are a student, or student group, at NC State University and you want to hand out information or speak about your faith to others you don’t know, you need a permit. One student at NC State thinks that goes too far and is taking the university to court in an attempt to overturn the policy. Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on the student’s behalf saying, “the courts have well established that a public university can’t require permits in this manner for this kind of speech.” The lawsuit also contends that university officials were selectively censoring the student’s organization.

The student, identified as “Hannalee” explained her reasons for filing the lawsuit in a post on the Alliance Defending Freedom blog. We have printed it in its entirety here with permission.

My College Claims to be a Place Where Everyone Thrives. Then it Silenced Me. Here’s My Story.

My name is Hannalee, and I am a senior at North Carolina State University. Three years ago, I decided to pursue my education at NC State because it felt like home. The brick campus is huge, and there are over 34,000 students walking around daily, but I love being around people, and I was excited about the potluck of cultures and passions at NC State. Other colleges had excellent teaching programs, but they didn’t feel like family. I knew as soon as I walked onto campus at NC State, that this was the place I wanted to be.

NC State has over 600 organizations. And students are creating new ones each year. The college prides itself on being a place where everybody can thrive—something I loved about it right away.

I am a Christian, and I was looking for a club where I could be with like-minded classmates who were passionate about our faith and sharing it with others. Today, I have the privilege to serve as president of Grace Christian Life, a student group on campus whose mission is to give people a full picture of who Jesus Christ is. Our love for Jesus Christ inspires us to serve our classmates, our families, and our communities through activities such as Service Raleigh, providing food and clothing for the homeless, and assisting other local families in need. This year we branched out into two new ventures. We partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, an international poverty alleviation organization, and with the IronDog race in our area, which is a 5K to raise money for pet owners who cannot afford medical care for their animals. We had such a great time serving our community this year!

And, if they are interested, we also love sharing our faith with our fellow classmates. Spiritual conversations strike at the very heart of what it means to be human, and there is no better place to have those kinds of conversations than on a university campus—the ultimate marketplace of ideas where we, as learners, are seeking knowledge and truth to take with us once we leave.

One day, however, the university stopped members of our group and told us that we must apply for a permit before speaking. Because our thoughts and ideas might possibly offend someone, even though we never pushed them on anyone, NC State decided that we didn’t have the freedom to share what we believed with people who wanted to learn about it. So now, on this campus that claims to be a place where everyone thrives, we were silenced.

This policy at North Carolina State University is wrong. No college student needs a permit to talk to their classmates on campus. The only permit we need is the First Amendment of the Constitution. Speech isn’t free if you have to ask permission! So I, and Grace Christian Life, are doing something we never dreamed we’d do: we’re suing the college we love, because we don’t want to see that college destroy itself by stifling the very diversity and freedom that gives it life.

A college campus, of all places, is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas. The survival of that marketplace depends on free, vigorous, and often spontaneous speech carried out through the spoken word, fliers, signs, and displays, unrestricted by arbitrary speech restrictions. Free speech on campus should be a no-brainer.

Ultimately, I chose to attend NC State because it felt like home. Home is a safe place—not a place that insulates and protects you from reality, but a place where you know that you can express yourself, disagree, and still be loved. It is a place you can be honest and open.

I came to NC State to learn to be a teacher, because I want to give a voice to my future students to share their own ideas with the world. I want to become a teacher because I am called to show people that they are valuable, that their ideas and thoughts are valuable. I want to inspire the next generation to love truth, and instill values that will benefit both their lives as individuals and the world they are entering to serve. They need to know that they have value, and that their thoughts and opinions have value. But it’s not enough for them to simply know this. They also need to know that they have the freedom to share those thoughts and ideas with the world. They need to know that everyone has the freedom to speak, and live, according to their deepest convictions. I am honored to stand with Grace Christian Life. Free speech is something we should never take for granted, and I am hopeful that my school will do the right thing and ensure liberty for all NC State students, both now and in the future.

In response, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson issued a statement, saying the lawsuit is “without merit.” “The university – along with all universities – is allowed to manage requests by speakers or those wanting to distribute materials based on permissible time, place and manner concerns. We do this to manage the volume of requests, pedestrian traffic concerns, prevent overlapping time and location bookings, and ensure the university can carry out its primary mission of teaching our students. NC State reviews requests solely for time, place and manner considerations without regard to messaging or beliefs.”


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