U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Preacher Can't Preach on UA Campus

When most people envision First Amendment civil rights challenges against college campuses, student protest groups come to mind. However, the University of Alabama just fought off a seemingly random Evangelical preacher's federal First Amendment lawsuit, and Eleventh Circuit appeal.

Fortunately for UA, both the district and appellate courts agreed that the preacher's case did not merit granting a preliminary injunction against the campus. Whether or not the case will get much further is a different story, but the facts are rather curious, and don't seem to bode well for the well-meaning plaintiff preacher.

Details of the Decision

Apparently, Rodney Keister is a traveling Christian evangelist who claims to have been "called to publicly share his religious beliefs throughout the country." One day, while trying to do so on the sidewalk of the UA campus, he was asked to move off campus by UA police since he had not obtained a permit from the UA administration. He complied. But then, while preaching at the place he believed he was told to move to, he was again told to move off campus by UA police, and so he left and filed the First Amendment lawsuit.

In order to seek a speedy resolution and be able to preach on the campus, Keister sought a preliminary injunction. Unfortunately for him, neither district nor appellate court found his arguments very convincing. The courts found that UA did have a compelling purpose to restrict sidewalk speech, and that within the campus, sidewalks are a limited public forum rather than a traditional public forum like traditional city sidewalks. The reasoning goes that college campuses serve the purpose of education. Unlike a public park that's open to everyone and is a traditional public forum, a university campus is meant to facilitate education, and serve the needs, of students and faculty.

Notably, if the preacher had been on a sidewalk on the perimeter of the campus rather than within the campus (and right in the heart of campus as he the court explained), then it could have been an entirely different case.

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