Appeals Court reinstates preacher's free speech challenge involving University of Tennessee

Appeals Court reinstates preacher's free speech challenge involving University of Tennessee

August 2nd, 2013 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News


Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A traveling evangelical preacher from Kentucky can continue challenging the University of Tennessee's restrictions for on-campus speakers because the policy "threatens to chill free speech," the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

The ruling restarts a lawsuit brought by John McGlone of Breeding, Ky., who is challenging the university's requirements that speakers on campus have sponsorship and get the approval of school administrators.

Judge Boyce F. Martin, writing for the court, concluded that the regulations are vague and arbitrarily applied to speakers. Martin noted that different members of the university administration have applied the regulations in varying ways, sometimes to the detriment of the person seeking to speak on campus.

"The uncertainty regarding who has the authority to grant sponsorships could cause people to refrain from attempting to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech on the university's campus," Martin wrote in an 11-page opinion.

The ruling sends McGlone's challenge to U.S. District Court in Knoxville for further proceedings.

McGlone told The Associated Press he wants to make it back to the campus this fall to preach because it has been three years since he's tried.

"I am waiting to hear how this will all play out in the reality of me sharing my faith in Jesus Christ on the public university there in Knoxville," McGlone said.

A message left for a University of Tennessee spokeswoman was not immediately returned Friday.

McGlone sued the university in 2011, alleging that university administrators were denying his rights to free speech on campus with the sponsorship and approval requirements.

McGlone, who travels to universities in the Southeast and along the Atlantic coast, visited the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville five times between 2008 and August 2010 to express his religious beliefs. McGlone generally set up shop in an open-air amphitheater on a pedestrian walkway. Before arriving, McGlone notified university officials of his plans and received no objection.

On Aug. 25, 2010, university officials told McGlone that he needed sponsorship of a campus-affiliated organization to speak. He was kept from preaching on campus despite protestations about free-speech rights. The next year, McGlone asked 10 Christian-based student organizations to sponsor his time on campus, but none responded.

After seeing his request denied, McGlone sued the university. A federal judge in Knoxville in 2012 ruled in favor of the university.

In February 2012, the appeals court forced Tennessee Tech to change its policies on campus speakers. McGlone sued that school because he wanted to preach on the Cookeville campus in 2009 but wasn't allowed because of a university policy requiring two weeks' notice and disclosure of what he wanted to speak about.

In that case, a judge concluded that the school's notice policy was unconstitutional. Tennessee Tech has since altered its policy on speakers, narrowing how much notice the school must be given.