A federal judge told attorneys challenging and defending a N.C. State University student speech policy that he planned to rule over the weekend on a request to block enforcement of the campus code while the lawsuit is pending in court.
The Grace Christian Life student organization sued four administrators at NCSU in April, arguing that it should not have to get a permit from the university to hand out fliers and talk to students about Jesus.
The group of students also contend that they have been targeted unfairly by administrators, saying they have been told they must remain at an assigned table in the Talley Student Union building while other organizations have representatives collecting signatures on petitions or handing out literature beyond the boundaries.
U.S. District Judge James C. Dever held a hearing Thursday on the lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization based in Arizona that has been involved in numerous legal fights across the country over religion, abortion and other social issues.
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At issue during the hourlong hearing was whether NCSU should be blocked from enforcing its solicitation policy, which dates back to 1993, until the legal challenge is decided. The policy governs where and how people and organizations on the NCSU campus can distribute written material and “oral speech to a passerby.”
Under the policy, anyone involved in “non-commercial solicitation” must get a permit from the office of Student Involvement, which oversees student groups on campus.
The students challenging the policy contend it infringes on their right to free speech.
Stephanie Brennan and Kimberly Potter, attorneys from the state Attorney General’s Office representing NCSU, argued that campus administrators are well within their rights to manage student organizations and the use of campus space. They said the policy has been enforced equally and does not violate the constitutional right to free speech.
Campus officials have said hundreds of groups and individuals have used the process each year to distribute information on an array of topics.
But Dever had questions for the attorneys about how such a policy works.
If someone’s mother comes on campus and happened to have 10 fliers with her about a Bernie Sanders rally in downtown Raleigh, Dever asked, would she need a permit?
Yes, Brennan replied.
Dever said he understood the university acting “as a landlord agency saying, if you want to use this stadium, you’ve got to sign up.”
What perplexed him, though, was requiring a permit for some of the activities “because of the potential for disruption. That’s what I don’t understand.”