HAMPTON, Va. — The Virginia Community College System has agreed to alter its free speech policy as a means to settle a lawsuit with a Christian student who was barred from preaching the Gospel on campus last fall.
As previously reported, last fall, student Christian Parks publicly preached the Gospel on four different occasions in a courtyard on the Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) campus. However, the third time Parks preached the Gospel in the campus courtyard, he was confronted by three uniformed police officers from the TNCC Police Department. The officers ordered Parks to stop preaching. Though Parks thought the officers’ actions were unconstitutional, he complied with their order.
A few days later, Parks began preaching in the same courtyard for the fourth time. Once again, campus police officers silenced him.
Following the second encounter with the campus police, Parks asked TNCC administrators why he was not allowed to preach on the school’s campus. He was told that, in order to open-air preach on campus, he would first have to join a registered student organization and then receive permission from TNCC officials four days in advance of any preaching. If Parks did not comply with the regulations, he could be subject to disciplinary actions, including suspension or dismissal.
Therefore, Parks contacted the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for assistance, which filed a lawsuit against the university. Attorneys argued that the school’s silencing of Parks’ preaching is a violation of his First Amendment constitutional rights.
“It is repugnant to Mr. Parks that he, as an individual citizen and student at a public community college, must notify the government in order to speak on campus when he feels convicted by his religious faith to speak and preach on campus,” the suit contended.
The ACLU of Virginia also criticized the school’s speech-limiting policies, writing in a letter to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) that the school’s policies deserve “substantial revision.”
“If accurate, the complaint against VCCS describes a clear violation of the constitutionally protected free speech rights of a community college student,” it stated. “[W]e urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that a revised demonstration policy that takes into account the free speech rights of students, faculty, staff, and the general public is considered and adopted by the Board without delay.”
This week, the Daily Press reported that the system agreed to work out a settlement with Park, which primarily includes altering its free speech policy. The current policy has been suspended while the settlement is reached.
“Both parties desire to suspend the … current policy in order to allow [Parks] and all other students to speak freely on campus,” court documents stated, “[C]ounsel for the parties believe that they may be able to reach an amicable settlement in this case.”
The settlement is scheduled to be presented to the court in early May, at which time the lawsuit will be discontinued if the agreement is approved by the judge assigned to the case.