HAMPTON, Va. — A community college in Virginia has altered its free speech policy after Christian student was barred from preaching on campus without prior approval.
As previously reported, Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) student Christian Parks had filed suit against the university earlier this year after experiencing difficulty in publicly preaching the gospel on campus. Parks has spoken on four different occasions in the college courtyard, discussing God’s existence and proclaiming Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
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, according to the lawsuit filed by the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of the student.
Following the second encounter with police, Parks asked TNCC administrators why he was not allowed to preach on the school’s campus. He was told that, in order to engage in open-air preaching, 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 have been subject to disciplinary actions, including suspension or dismissal.
“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,” Parks’ lawsuit contended.
But as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring decided not to defend TNCC’s college in court, his office decided to work out a solution to the matter to avoid lengthy legal entanglements.
“Once the suit was filed, our office got all parties together to help facilitate a solution prior to extensive litigation,” a spokesperson for Herring told the Virginian-Pilot.
Consequently, the university altered its free speech policy to declare outdoor areas on campus as “venues for free expression,” eliminating its designated free speech zones. While it allowed for “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” in regard to free speech—in accordance with Supreme Court precedent—the university says that any regulations will be narrow and will not interfere with the right to speak.
“As a result of the case, the Virginia Community College System and Thomas Nelson Community College have changed their policies to allow much greater freedom of expression for students,” ADF attorney Travis Barham told reporters.
In addition to altering the university’s free speech policy, it also agreed to pay attorney’s fees in the amount of $24,999. Parks will only receive $1 in compensation for nominal damages.