Jewish Journal


February 18, 2012

Street preacher loses case against University of Tennessee



Joe Johnson and John Ward Pedestrian Mall, The University of Tennessee. Photo by Wikipedia/Zereshk

If you’ve spent considerable time on a college campus recently, you’ve probably seen a street preacher. At UCLA, they tend to frequent Bruin Walk, the main pedestrian walkway through campus. Crowds tend to congregate but, in my experience, they’re not really there to hear the message so much as they are to gawk and incite.

One campus you probably wouldn’t see that is University of Tennessee in Knoxville. That’s because though many public universities, like UCLA, are generally open to the public and only require a use permit for special facilities and locations, UT does not permit outside speakers on campus unless they are sponsored by a student organization.

John McGlone, a Christian who wanted to spread the good news at UT, recently challenged the policy with a federal civil rights action, claiming that the policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. But a federal district court judge disagreed, ruling that the policy was content-neutral and not overbroad:

The policy applies indiscriminately to all visitors who would conduct a speech on campus. Furthermore, there is nothing in the language of the policy that encourages selective application of the policy by the Dean of Students; whether a speaker has obtained sponsorship, and whether the university can make the “physical arrangements” necessary to accommodate the speaker in light of time and space limitations, are the only criteria upon which the university evaluates a request to speak on campus.

More on McGlone v. Cheek, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18820, at LexisNexis. Hat tip: Religion Clause.

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