Va. Christian Student Wins Free Speech Lawsuit; 23 College Campuses Agree to Change Policy

A U.S. District Court has ruled in favor of an evangelical student, who was barred from preaching on campus without prior approval, ruling that outdoor areas of a Virginia Community College System comprising 23 college campuses are "venues for free expression."

The VCCS has consented to the court order that prohibits it from enforcing unconstitutional speech policies and zones, said Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys represented the student, Christian Parks, of Thomas Nelson Community College.

The policy changes affect all 23 of the system's schools, the ADF said in a statement Friday.

The VCCS will also have to pay $1 in nominal damages and $24,999 in legal fees to the ADF, according to Campus Reform.

"Colleges should support – not censor – student speech. We commend the Virginia Community College System for revising its speech policy to align with what a marketplace of ideas should be," said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham.

A VCCS speech policy required students to be part of a student organization before they could speak in the open areas of campus. Besides, students could only speak in the campus areas that college officials designated, and the students had to register with the college four days in advance.

Parks was prevented from preaching two separate times last fall in a public courtyard at his college.

"The revised policies respect the rights of all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs, to speak freely in the outdoor areas of campus, and students no longer have to jump through unconstitutional hoops to exercise the freedoms that the First Amendment protects," Barham added.

Under the new policy, students are no longer required to be part of a student organization before they can speak in the open areas of campus. Also, student free speech will no longer be limited to "free speech zones" designated by college officials, and students will no longer be required to register with their college four days in advance of engaging in free speech.

"The decision of one student to take a stand has brought about greater freedom for students on 23 college campuses in Virginia," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. "We hope this case motivates others to take similar stands so that they and all Americans will be able to continue to benefit from the constitutional freedoms we have inherited and enjoy every day."

The ADF filed the lawsuit in March, and it took only three months to resolve. Va. Attorney General Mark Herring decided not to defend the policy in court.

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