The Supreme Court ruled March 8th in the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, ruling in favor of the Gwinnett College student, Chike Uzuegbunam. Uzuegbunam was a student on campus who passed out religious Christian literature to other students in an effort to evangelize them. The school subsequently stopped him and said if he were to continue he must obtain a permit and do so within one of the two designated “free speech zones.” Uzuegbunam complied, but upon practicing his First Amendment rights he was again stopped because the University said he was threatening other students with his ideas.
Uzuegbunam brought a lawsuit against the public university who, as a result, dropped the policy and the disciplinary actions against him. However, Uzuegbunam kept up the case in court saying that just because they changed the policy doesn’t mean he isn’t entitled to damages. The lower two courts disagreed, ruling against Uzuegbunam, but the Supreme Court ruled that he was entitled to damages despite the change in policy.
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court saying, “We hold only that, for the purpose of Article III standing, nominal damages provide the necessary redress for a completed violation of a legal right.” Essentially, the Court is saying that when a right is violated, which the University did not contest, nominal damages can be awarded. Even more importantly, nominal damages can be awarded even if no actual damages occurred such as a loss of money or imprisonment.
This provision is critical for the protection of Constitutional rights, especially those of free speech. Now, we could see challenges to “free speech zones” around the country. Although this case doesn’t expressly forbid them, it effectively admits their inappropriateness after the university eliminated their policy. In reality, there is one big free speech zone, and it’s called the American college campus. We have seen in many cases that the First Amendment doesn’t only protect polite speech or speech that doesn’t offend people. That was never the intention of the founders, who wanted to create an environment where the suggestion of unpopular ideas and dissent were welcomed. These unpopular ideas and dissent not only serve a singular purpose to promote themselves but help everyone form their own opinions. This is a huge win for students who need not worry that their administrations can trample upon their rights with no threat of incurring any real penalty.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.