‘Speech Zone’ Lawsuit: Christians Limited to 0.08 Percent of Campus as ‘Pride Day’ Gets Free Rein
Last week, a Christian nonprofit group filed a federal lawsuit against a Georgia university for restricting a pro-life display to less than 0.08 percent of campus, while allowing an LGBT "Pride Day" event to take place across all the campus's seven "free speech zones."
"Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are freely shared, not gagged or quarantined," Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Travis Barham, a lawyer representing the Christian student group Ratio Christi, told PJ Media. "Speech isn't free when students have to ask permission and are limited as to where they can speak."
In the lawsuit, filed on February 20, Ratio Christi — a Christian organization dedicated to merging faith and reason — charged Kennesaw State University (KSU) with unconstitutional violations of students' free speech, due process, and equal protection rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Ratio Christi argued that KSU's speech zone policies are arbitrary and restrictive.
The complaint began in June 2013, when Ratio Christi's legal counsel sent a lawyer requesting KSU alter its speech zone policies. Later that month, the university replied that it would review the policies, but it enacted no change in the next year, and Ratio Christi sent another complaint letter in June 2014. Three and a half years later, the organization has not received a response.
In October 2015, Ratio Christi held a pro-life display on campus. Students called the police, but the police found no fault. In February 2016, Ratio Christi requested the open and accessible Zone 2 to host another pro-life event.
Rather than granting their request, the administration forced Ratio Christi to move the event to Zone 4, one of two speech zones in a highly undesirable part of campus.
The "speech zone" of Zones 3 and 4 is separated from the sidewalk around the Campus Green by hedges, mulch beds, and mud, according to the lawsuit. This area has a negative connotation, as students presume that any event held there is "sponsored by an entity that is not a legitimate member of the KSU community." Students "tend to avoid such events, equating them with people like street-preachers."
Worse, this area is a mere 0.3 acres — on KSU's 405-acre campus. The "speech zone" constitutes a mere 0.08 percent of the campus.
The administration told Ratio Christi that the February 2016 event had to take place in this inconvenient "speech zone," rather than the area the group requested, Zone 2. Worse, the administrator made her intentions clear by calling the event "controversial," and offering Zone 2 if Ratio Christi would exclude some of its pro-life posters for the event.
But the viewpoint discrimination did not stop there. On September 15, 2017, Ratio Christi again requested Zone 2 for an event. Having received no response, the Christian organization sent a follow-up email on October 9. The next day, an administrator responded, saying that the event could only take place in Zones 3 and 4, "due to the nature of your information table."