Tuesday, August 6, 2013
The Sixth Circuit ruled last week in McGlone v. Cheek that the University of Tennessee's speech policy was unconstitutionally vague and violated the First Amendment.
The case arose when the University denied permission to McGlone, a self-described "committed Christian," to share his religious beliefs with students in an open-air amphitheater on campus. Campus authorities told him that he needed a University sponsor. In particular, they told him that University policy required speakers not affiliated with the University receive sponsorship from "students, faculty, or staff." But they also told him that he needed to be "sponsored by a registered student organization, staff, or faculty." McGlone couldn't get a sponsor, so he didn't speak. But he sued.
The Sixth Circuit seized on the different articulations of the policy--one requiring sponsorship from "students, faculty, or staff," and the other requiring sponsorship from "a registered student organization, staff, or faculty"--to rule that the policy was unconstitutionally vague. The court said that a person of ordinary intelligence wouldn't know the University policy's meaning, that University officials had applied it differently, and that it left open the possibility of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
The court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to grant a preliminary injunction against the University.