At Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn., free speech can get quite costly.
Prohibited from speaking about his faith and handing out free religious literature, Mark Dew, a student at the college, was told he would have to pay a fee to witness on campus.
Campus police had shut him down, accusing him of “solicitation” even though he wasn’t selling anything and was acting without amplification, without impeding student traffic, and in a positive and conversational manner, according to the Alliance Defense Fund.
School officials also informed him later that he could not speak about his faith or hand out Christian literature because he was an individual and not part of a recognized student group.
But even after Dew connected with the Pellissippi Collegiate Ministry, a Christian organization that had approval from the college to hold a limited number of religious functions on campus, he was still censored and told he could only speak about his faith during specific ministry events, knoxnews.com reported.
Pleading his case before school officials, Dew, 44, was informed that under the Tennessee Board of Regents’ “solicitation” policy, individual students were required to apply three weeks prior to speaking or dispensing literature, and pay a $30 fee.
When ADF Allied Attorney Andrew Fox sent a letter to the school explaining that the student was not engaged in “solicitation” but First Amendment protected speech, Pellissippi State continued to repeat their policy.
An attorney for the Tennessee Board of Regents also defended the school’s policy as “reasonable and viewpoint neutral,” the ADF revealed.
Consequently, the ADF filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on behalf of the Pellissippi State student, suing the Tennessee Board of Regents and Pellissippi State officials.
In a statement released last week, Casey Mattox, senior legal counsel for ADF, said, “Christian students at public college shouldn’t be deterred from sharing their beliefs because of burdensome, unconstitutional policies.”
“First Amendment-protected rights never come with a price tag or waiting period, and college students don’t lose them simply by walking onto campus.”
The First Amendment also does not permit Pellissippi State to authorize registered student organizations to determine which students may or may not speak on the campus, or to retain unlimited discretion to permit groups to speak on campus, Mattox penned on the ADF blog.
“If the University is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, the central planners at Pellissippi State have regulated the marketplace out of existence.”
Undeterred by the policy, however, Dew applied three weeks in advance and paid the $30 fee in order to share his faith during the first full week of the 2011 summer semester.