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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Evangelist Must Follow Rules to Speak at College

ATLANTA (CN) - An evangelical preacher who was arrested for pontificating at college campus without a permit cannot get an injunction to speak there again, the 11th Circuit ruled.

Benjamin Bloedorn wanted to enjoin a school policy regulates the access and conduct of outside, nonsponsored speakers at Georgia Southern University, a state school in Statesboro with a student population of 18,000.

The ruling describes Bloedorn as an "itinerant preacher" who seeks out busy areas on college campuses to broadcast his evangelical message. He reportedly speaks for four to six hours a day on continuous days.

Georgia Southern University officials repeatedly warned Bloedorn that he needed a permit when he tried to speak on the campus quad, but the preacher said doing so was an "affront" to his beliefs. Bloedorn sued several university officials after he was arrested for trespass.

A Georgia federal judge declined to grant Bloedorn an injunction, and the federal appeals court affirmed on Jan. 28.

"The university is under no obligation to open its campus to outside, nonsponsored speakers," Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the appellate court's three-judge panel. "The First Amendment does not guarantee access to property for speech activities simply because the property is government-owned."

The 42-page decision notes that if Bloedorn did face the restrictions of the school permit, he could have sought sponsorship from the faculty, student body or affiliated organizations.

"There is no record evidence suggesting (nor has Bloedorn even alleged) that the ban on outside, non-sponsored speakers in these areas is viewpoint-based; it applies equally to all outside, nonsponsored speakers," Marcus wrote. "Nor is there any record evidence even remotely suggesting that the university has ever made any exception to this policy. Moreover, the policy is a reasonable one."

The judges upheld the lower court's determination that GSU is a "limited public forum," and that Bloedorn, as a nonsponsored speaker, can be subjected to trespassing charges.

The university has granted each of the six permit requests made by outside speakers, the ruling states.

"Bloedorn has not shown that the district court abused its discretion nor has he established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits," Marcus wrote.

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