Va. College Changes 'Free Speech Zone' Rules After Evangelical Student Files Lawsuit

Thomas Nelson Community College along with its umbrella organization, the Virginia Community College System, has agreed to suspend its policy on "free speech zones" in response to a lawsuit brought by a student who wants to preach on campus.

Last month, Christian Parks brought a lawsuit before the Eastern District of Virginia Newport News Division, alleging that TNCC violated his freedom of speech when campus officials stopped him from preaching in an on-campus plaza area.

According to the lawsuit, Parks was prohibited from preaching due to the college's policy, which states that students can only stage demonstrations if they belong to a student group and get permission four days in advance.

The agreement to suspend the policy came as both TNCC and Parks looked into a settlement as well as crafting a new policy.

"Both sides have asked a federal judge in Norfolk to put the case on hold until May 2 while a new policy and settlement details are negotiated," reported The Associated Press.

"Over the last dozen years, several similar policies establishing restrictive speech zones at public colleges have been invalidated by courts or changed by officials to settle lawsuits alleging violation of students' First Amendment rights."

Parks was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom of Scottsdale, Ariz. David Hacker, ADF senior legal counsel, stated that free speech is an important component of collegiate life.

"Free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses is supposed to be a hallmark of higher education rather than the exception to the rule," said Hacker.

"We hope that Virginia Community College System will revise its policy so that students no longer have to jump through unconstitutional hoops to exercise the freedoms that the First Amendment protects."

Parks also had the support of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which dubbed the treatment of Parks by Thomas Nelson as "absurd and unconstitutional."

Regarding the recent concession by the College, ADF attorney Travis Barham told the University Herald that he was "pleased" with the development.

"We're very pleased that the other side seems to recognize that there are some flaws in the policy and is working with us to get those corrected," said Barham.

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