Federal Court Sides With Preacher Who Challenged University’s Speaker Policy

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Christian evangelist who is challenging Tennessee Technological University’s policy on outside speakers. The preacher, John McGlone, says the Cookeville, Tenn., institution violated his First Amendment rights when it barred him from speaking on a campus patio unless he sought permission 14 days in advance, and threatened him with arrest if he tried to speak. A lower court had dismissed the suit, saying that the university’s policy was narrowly tailored and content-neutral, and that Mr. McGlone had suffered no injury.

In a ruling issued on Monday, however, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed. It said that the policy was not narrowly tailored because it requires speakers to seek permission much further in advance than most other colleges’ policies, gives administrators discretion to grant requests on a much timelier basis, and asks potential speakers to disclose what they plan to speak about. Both the policy and the threat of arrest had “objectively chilled” Mr. McGlone’s First Amendment rights, the decision said. The ruling sends the case back to the lower court and directs it to reconsider Mr. McGlone’s request for an injunction barring enforcement of the policy.

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