A permit is required before students can talk about Jesus at North Carolina State University, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
Grace Christian Life, a registered student group at NC State, filed suit over a policy requiring a permit for any kind of student speech or communication anywhere on campus – including religious speech.
In September 2015, the student group was told that without a permit, they must stop approaching other students inside the student union to engage in religious discussions or invite them to attend group events.
“It’s an amazingly broad speech restriction, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Tyson Langhofer told me. “Public universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, not places where students need a permit just to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases. They allege the Christian group has been singled out by the university.
“The University has not restricted the ability of other students and student groups to engage in expressive activity,” the lawsuit states. “Grace has witnessed other students, student groups and off-campus groups handing out literature either without a permit or outside of the area reserved by their table permit.”
A university spokesperson did not return my calls seeking comment.
NC State’s rules were so draconian that the Christians were not even allowed to step from behind their table in the student union.
“Colleges are supposed to be places where ideas are freely shared – not gagged,” Grace Christian Life President Hannalee Alrutz told me. “The only permit a student needs to speak on campus is the First Amendment.”
It’s true that the university does regulate student speech – written, oral or graphic.
ADF points to Regulation 07.25.12 that “requires a permit for any form of commercial or non-commercial speech, which the policy broadly defines as ‘any distribution of leaflets, brochures, or other written material, or oral speech to a passersby (sic)…’”
“The policy specifics that any person ‘wishing to conduct any form of solicitation on University premises must have the written permission of the Student Involvement (Office) in advance,” ADF noted.
According to the lawsuit, a university official sent an email to another official concerned about the Christian club.
“There is an individual named Tommy who works for Grace who is essentially soliciting throughout the building,” the email reads. “He walks up to a single person or duo of persons, starts with a hello and then starts the conversation into religion, ending with giving them a card.”
The email goes on to explain how they’ve stopped other groups from engaging in similar behavior in order to “create that inclusive, welcoming environment.”
In other words, the only way to be truly inclusive and welcoming is to shut down the Christians and shove them into a closet.
The lawsuit also provides some context on the university’s attitude towards Christian ministry during the time that Grace came under attack.
Grace was a member of Chaplain’s Cooperative Ministry, an independent, interfaith organization that supported individual campus ministries and planned jointly sponsored interfaith programs.
In October 2015, a university official met with the CCM to advise the group “on the speech restrictions imposed by the Speech Permit Policy.”
Solicitation is not allowed when conversation is initiated under one pretense different from the intended purpose…inviting involvement in a certain ministry,” the university official said in written minutes of the meeting.
In November 2015, the university dissolved its relationship with CCM because “the current environment of diversity and faith traditions within the university is not shown or mirrored well within CCM as it currently exists.”
The lawsuit did not elaborate on the problematic “faith traditions” -- but typically that means “Evangelical Christians.”
ADF tried unsuccessfully to convince NC State to drop its unconstitutional speech policies – but they refused – hence the lawsuit.
“The courts have well established that a public university can’t require permits in this manner for this kind of speech – and certainly can’t enforce such rules selectively,” ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker said. “Unconstitutional censorship is bad enough, but giving university officials complete discretion to decide when and where to engage in silence students makes the violation even worse.”
Kudos to Grace Christian Life for standing up to a bunch of academic bullies who want to silence Christian voices. And thank goodness for bold believers like Miss Alrutz.
“I think this is an attack on my liberty as a citizen of the United States,” she told me – warning that every freedom-loving American should be concerned.
“If they could do it to us – they could do it to anybody,” she said.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.