The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal group, has backed an evangelical preacher who was barred from preaching on the sidewalk to University of Alabama students, filing a petition on Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his free speech case.
The case concerns Rodney Keister, a traveling Christian evangelist, who has been visiting college campuses throughout the country for years, preaching on the sidewalks and handing out Gospel tracts.
In March 2016, however, when he was attempting to preach at UA in Tuscaloosa, he was told by campus police that he needs a permit from the university to spread the Gospel message.
The evangelist sued UA with the help of attorney Nate Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression, but the federal district court sided with UA, declaring that sidewalks are a “special enclave,” even though the UA campus is “not fenced off, gated, or otherwise self-contained to prevent public access.”
The U.S. Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit agreed with the lower court that the area where Keister was preaching was “not intended as an area for the public’s expressive conduct, and contains markings clearly identifying it as an enclave.”
“Neither are we persuaded by Mr. Keister’s argument that because the intersection is open as a public thoroughfare, it is per se a traditional public forum,” the Court said, and “the First Amendment does not guarantee access to property merely because the government owns it.”