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May 12, 2016 12:00 pm
NC Family president John Rustin talks with Tyson Langhofer, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), about a lawsuit ADF has filed on behalf a Christian student group against NC State’s speech permit policy.
Speech is free if you have to request permission prior to doing so.
This is family policy motors see family Pres. John Preston like you for joining us. Our guest today is Tyson linehaul for senior legal counsel with alliance defending freedom and alliance building nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith in ADF. Tyson plays a key role on the Center for academic freedom tightens can be talking with us about a lawsuit. ADF is recently filed on behalf of the Christian student group against NC State University. The dispute is over, and arguably unconstitutional university policy that require student groups to file for and obtain a permit before handing out literature and even speaking with other students in public places on campus. Tyson welcomed the family policy matters. It's great to have you with us extravagantly what we appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule Tyson tell us about the student group that's involved in this case Grace Christian life and what calls this group to pursue a lawsuit against NC State University Grace Christian life is a student organization at NC State that has been around for more than 20 years, and their goal is just to create a place for Christians there on campus to the fellowship, and then share the love of Jesus with the students around campus and they been doing that actively for over 20 years and one of the things that Grace does as they interact with their student with other students on campus is they'll invite them to grace events or just begin religious conversations with her fellow students, and last September when one of their students and a another individual with the grace Christian life. A staff member there. They were at the tally student union and they were just talking with various students and in sharing with them what grace Christian is an and then talking about religious beliefs and they were stopped by university official told them told that they could no longer engage in those conversations in the student union without a permit and were were asked to leave the students and obeyed that the request and and left and that's that's what I began this process. Unfortunately, these speech climate policies of this nature are not all that uncommon on college and university campuses. And I know in the lawsuit one the first things that it says in the complaint is the public universities are really supposed to be known as the marketplace about is where students are able to converse with each other to share ideas to have discussions and collaborate and to just share beliefs and to learn that's all about the academic pursuit. What is the speech permit policy that the University has required of students and do you believe it is constitutional permit policy that NC state has in place is extremely broad. It requires a permit for what they defined as both commercial solicitation and then noncommercial solicitation and the noncommercial solicitation is essentially defined, is anyone any student handing out eight any kind of written material to any other students or any oral speech to a passerby so it's really as broad as it could be. And that applies to the entire campus both inside and outside would so this policy grants the University officials to essentially stop any student from doing an activity as common as handing out a a paper to somebody else or calling out to another student and they could in theory under this policy require those students to obtain a permit. As you said that the permit policies were speech permit policies are not all that unusual, and on university campuses. Unfortunately, but in this case is one of the broadest restraints on on speech that I that I've seen.
You know me free speech on campus is it's a no-brainer. College students don't need a permit to talk to their classmates on campus. They the only permit they need is the First Amendment. Tyson part of the lawsuit being filed.
What efforts did the student group take to address the concerns with University officials and what kind of response to they received back after the grace Christian life was stopped from speaking in September they contacted us and asked us to look at the policy and to give us there and give them our opinion on whether is constitutional. We reviewed it and determined that it was unconstitutional, so we prepared a letter to the University in and laid out our concerns and requested that they revise the policy and even told him that we would work with them to go to enact a new constitutional policy they sent a letter back in and responded that they believe the policy was constitutional and and and that they were going to maintain that same policy, the student group at that point in time didn't really have a choice but to seek further legal action to protect the rights. One of the things that ADF is arguing in the complaint is that NC states permit policy violates grace Christian life constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. Explain four listeners will but more about that. How does this policy. In particular, violate their free-speech rights while you speech is free if you have to request permission prior to doing so that's that that's the basic line argument essentially what the University is saying is if you want to talk with other students will read your word and require that you have a permit to do so.
And the problem with doing that is that, especially with a policy like this. There are no guidelines and there there are no objective criteria for the University to determine which speech to allow, in which speech not to allow those policies where there are two it's called unbridled discretion where essentially a government official is given the authority to make decisions based upon their own belief their own predilections. How would they. How are you going to feel about this beach and allow the University to decide which speech to lower what's not to allow and so essentially this type of policy is called a prior restraint. It's it you can think of it as a citizen if you were out on a public street and you were talking with others, and a police officer came up and said you can't talk with you can't engage in oral speech with a passerby or you can hand out this pamphlet and when we know those times restrictions have consistently been struck down as unconstitutional by every court from the United States Supreme Court on down you're listening to policy matters in the resource and to listen to our radio show online resources have a voice of persuasion in your community website.
Collecting all the lawsuit also contends that NC State is applying the permit policy in a discriminatory manner really against this Christian student group, as compared to other similarly situated groups and organizations on campus. Talk about that for a minute, what was the experience of grace Christian life as far as the University officials treating them one way but treating others in a different way.
Grace Christian life members after they had this encounter they were really surprised to learn about this because these students are there in the student union and there they are there sitting there were talking to friends and when they are there engaged by other people who come up and hand the material or talk to them about various causes or events, and so they knew that this was very common and they never heard about anybody being required to have a permit. And so after this incident, they just begin paying attention to it and they realized that there were a lot of people coming up in an engaging with them and they would ask, you may do you have a permit for this and in the response universally throughout one's know we have a permit for this you will need a permit to speak with others in the student union and not a single group that they had that talk to them during that time was that you know indicated that they had a permit and that another another incident of this is there is a policy which allows student groups to reserve a table in a certain area in the student union and you can set up your table and put up your banners and then talk with students and arched our group was told that when you do that when you reserve a table, you're not allowed to leave or go out from behind the table, but they would consistently see other student groups who had tables would leave their tables and would go engage with students out the hallway or in other areas of the student union and they were never stop doing so. But when our our group would do that. They were consistently stop by University administrators and told that they could not go out from behind the table and speak with others, and so we believe this policy, the evidence shows that that this policy is being applied in an unconstitutional manner because as discriminating based upon grace Christian life and the religious viewpoint of their expressing well and I know from reading the complaint that it was not just the situation were very student groups were assembled and they were reaching out to speak with and share information with other students, but school officials. The one in particular who was in charge of overseeing this speech policy was actually available and in the student union or other areas. While these differing activities were taking place. And so it wasn't just that I this group was here they were, getting away with doing something. We were told we couldn't do when in fact the actual school officials were there and should have been directing in a fair manner.
Applying the policy the same toward this group as it would have other groups that's absolutely correct.
The unfortunately the same officials that were enforcing this policy against our group were present during that the time that that our group grace Christian life viewed these other groups going out there and and speaking with students in and we believe that all group should be able to do that, we believe that that the student union. This was recently remodeled with the beautiful union now that it and it has more than 10,000 visitors a day. It is designed to be the campus hub of activity where students can come and hang out and interact with other students, as we believe that all student groups regardless of their viewpoint should be able to to go engage with the students on campus and and tell them about what's going on in and engage in conversations with them and it's unconstitutional for a for a university official to apply this policy in a manner which discriminates against certain viewpoints and allows one group to to do something that they're not allowing the other group to do what you think that's taking place. NC State only were in Raleigh have been working on family policy Council is a lot of our listeners may have graduated from NC State or fans of the University. What do you think has motivated the school officials to treat this Christian group separate from others, and this lawsuit moves forward. How important do you believe this lawsuit is for the future of student rights and speech privileges on university and college campuses across from Carlotta was difficult to read into why certain officials take certain action but I know in the insert of the communications.
It the universities indicated that they're trying to maintain a quote inclusive environment and you know I think in today's day and age we know that that religion is viewed as as being an exclusive work. It's going to offend somebody in, and I'm guessing based upon those things and it appears that the University as it would be trying to you stop any speech with a which they would view as being exclusive or to cause somebody to feel uncomfortable and and that's your frankly that's very different from the purpose of the First Amendment. The first purpose of first limit is to protect speech that the majority may not like that that people would have a tendency to exclude and that that's why the first limits. There is far as the importance of this case it's it's very important for a lot of reasons, means first of all, that the Supreme Court has great precedent on on these types of issues that as you said that the marketplace of ideas should be protected on the University and and that there is no support in the Constitution for the ability to restrict ideas or restrict expression on the University.
In fact, that's where we should have the height of this freedom for students as their learning how to engage in in our society to hear all all sorts of ideas to determine what they believe is the truth and so if these types of policy like NC State maintains are upheld students rights on campus would be greatly restricted and it would it would it would greatly detract from the ability of these kids have, to engage in this marketplace of ideas and that is been protected for so long by our Constitution Tyson were unfortunately just about out of time. But before we leave.
I do want to give you an opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to learn more about alliance defending freedom about this important case dealing with student free speech rights on campus and where folks can avail themselves of other resources that ADF has available so anyone who is interested in in these topics, and in what ADF does. They can go to www.adflegal.org and that we got a bunch of great information and resources on their about what students rights are on campus what students rights are in in high schools. What if you're in the on the faculty at a public university. What are your rights on campus.
You can also learn more about about this this case and the other cases we have going on will ensure this will be of great interest to many of our listeners can only repeat that website is www.adflegal.org and without highflying health. I want to thank you so much for taking time out of what I know was a very busy schedule to be with us today on family policy matters, and especially for your great work in defending free speech on campus is nationwide through your efforts at alliance defending freedom. Thanks for having me, and thanks for all the good work you guys listening to policy matters NC family to listen to a radio show online for more valuable resources and information about issues important to families in North Carolina website see family.org follow us on Twitter and Facebook