Evangelist's Suit Leads Miami University to Revise Speech Policy

A five-year legal battle over Miami University's speech policy has come to an end with a settlement obtained Monday, according to attorneys with a Christian legal group.

Nearly a year after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sided with a Christian man who was prohibited from sharing a Christian message on campus because he didn't have a permit, Miami University revised their policies to affirm the First Amendment rights of campus visitors, reported Alliance Defense Fund attorneys.

"Exercising your First Amendment rights is not a crime," commented ADF Litigation Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. "We are pleased that the university has now issued new policies that affirm, rather than deny, those rights."

On Oct. 14, 2002, Christian evangelist Jim Giles visited the campus of Miami University with a friend and shared a Christian message with passerbys. After about 45 minutes, campus security approached the two men and informed them that they needed permission to conduct a speech on campus.

When the men went to the campus security office, they were told that some areas on campus were designated free speech areas and some were not. However, as Giles' speech was not considered "legitimate business," he was told that his expressive activities would not be permitted anywhere on campus.

In response, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit in a federal district court against the university's speech restrictions in October 2004. Though the federal court upheld the university's speech restrictions on April 20, 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court ruling the following year, stating that the university's policy was "ill-defined."

"There is 'no doubt that the First Amendment rights of speech and association extend to the campuses of state universities,'" the court noted, citing a 2001 ruling.

In his remarks Monday, ADF's Scruggs said "Christians shouldn't be penalized for expressing their beliefs."

"No one should be threatened with arrest or be required to have a permit to exercise their constitutional free speech rights. The university did the right thing when it revised its speech policy to respect the rights citizens have under the First Amendment," he added.

Located in Oxford, Ohio, Miami University is the tenth oldest public university in the United States and second oldest in the state of Ohio. The "Miami" in this school's name refers to the Miami River valley in southwestern Ohio.

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