University hit with lawsuit after ordering campus religious group to get permit

A Christian student group is suing North Carolina State University over a policy they say requires members to get a permit to talk to their classmates about Jesus.

Grace Christian Life, a religious student group long recognized by the 35,000-student school in Raleigh, claimed in a federal suit that school officials barred members last September from evangelizing to people on campus. The officials cited the school’s “Speech Permit Policy,” which the lawsuit, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, claims is unconstitutional.

“We believe that the only permit a student needs to speak on college campuses is the First Amendment,” ADF attorney Tyson Langhofer told

Earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III issued a preliminary injunction blocking the school from imposing the policy. School officials have until Friday to respond to ADF’s request for a permanent injunction that would bar the school from stopping Grace’s activities until a ruling on the merits of the case.

The ADF, a nonprofit legal foundation that advocates for religious liberty, filed the complaint in April - as reported by - after university officials refused to revise the permit policy. Langhofer argued that the school’s policy of requiring permission before allowing students to discuss a particular subject amounts to a “prior restraint” violation of the First Amendment.

The policy states that groups and individuals engaging in "non-commercial solicitation" on university premises must obtain the “written permission of Student Involvement in advance” or risk facing school sanctions and even criminal prosecution. The policy provides no timeline for granting or denying permission, Langhofer said, meaning an indefinite delay could be tantamount to denial.

The dispute arose last year when a student member of the group and a pastor were admonished by Director of University Student Centers TJ Willis for asking people in the student union if they “needed prayers,” Langhofer claimed. Willis allegedly told them they were prohibited from engaging in religious conversations with other students without a permit.

“The student union on campus is essentially a public forum,” said Langhofer.

Willis was correct in citing the policy, which places further limitations on students, granting administrators the right to disapprove permits if solicitation isn’t in alignment with values “consistent with the University’s mission.” But the ADF argued in its complaint that objective criteria is missing from the code, leaving it to school administrators’ discretion as to when to invoke the policy. The result, he claims, is discrimination based on the content of speech.

A school spokesman declined to comment, but in a statement, NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson insisted the university considers time, place and manner when reviewing permit requests for logistical reasons to ensure its “primary mission of teaching [its] students.”

“This lawsuit is without merit; the implication that an organization has been treated differently on our campus because they are a religious group is false,” Woodson said.