College pays $800,000 to students banned from evangelizing on campus after SCOTUS ruling: lawyers

Supreme Court ruled 8-1 last year that First Amendment plaintiffs can seek "nominal damages" without showing measurable economic harm.

Updated: June 30, 2022 - 11:44am

More than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that a student evangelist can sue his former school for "nominal damages" for First Amendment violations, without showing measurable economic harm, the two parties have reached a hefty settlement.

Georgia Gwinnett College, a state institution, agreed to pay Chike Uzuegbunam and Joseph Bradford more than $800,000 in attorney's fees and nominal damages, according to the students' lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

The stipulated dismissal doesn't include the settlement itself, but nominal damages -- representing hard-to-quantify harms such as constitutional violations -- are usually $1 per plaintiff, meaning nearly all the settlement goes to attorney fees.

College officials twice shut down Uzuegbunam for evangelizing on campus, first for proselytizing without a permit and then for drawing complaints from passers-by -- even though he obtained a permit for proselytizing.

Bradford alleged his evangelism was unconstitutionally chilled because of the actions against Uzuegbunam, though the settlement was reached before the trial court could determine whether he had "established a past, completed injury."

After first comparing evangelism to "fighting words", the college changed its free-speech policies and tried to dismiss the lawsuit as moot, saying nominal damages alone weren't enough to sustain litigation. A cross-ideological coalition sided with the students, and SCOTUS agreed.

A federal trial court rejected the college's motion to dismiss the case as moot after paying nominal damages in December.

ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham called the settlement a victory for "many other students who wish to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms" at Georgia public colleges. Thanks to the trial court ruling, "the college has finally decided to stop fighting the Constitution," he said.