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 March 22, 2023

SCOTUS denies Christian evangelist's challenge to university's permit requirements

Rodney Keister, a traveling Christian evangelist, received bad news this week after the U.S. Supreme Court shot down his challenge over a permitting issue at the University of Alabama. 

Reuters reported that the preacher had challenged the university's permit requirements that would have forced him to obtain paperwork to hand out religious pamphlets and preach from the sidewalks adjacent to the campus.

The rejection came after a lower court ruled against him, also shooting down his argument that the permitting requirements violated his First Amendment rights.

Reuters added:

Keister, founder of a Pennsylvania-based group called Evangelism Mission, regularly visits U.S. university campuses in hopes of spreading his Christian message to students, according to court filings.

The case originated after Keister was informed by university staff that in order to use a megaphone to spread the gospel, while handing out pamphlets, he would need a permit, given that the university considered his actions "a public-speaking event."

Reuters explained:

The university's policy at issue governed when, where and how a person unaffiliated with the school may engage in public speaking on campus including on sidewalks, other than "casual recreational or social activities." It required a permit application 10 business days in advance - which has since been reduced to five business days - and sponsorship by a student organization or university academic department.

That eventually prompted Keister to lawyer up and file a civil rights lawsuit against the university. He argued that the sidewalk was a "traditional public forum" that would be protected under the First Amendment.

This wasn't Keister's first attempt to get the high court to hear the issue. He was turned away by SCOTUS in 2018 after taking a number of losses in lower courts.

Those losses, including the Supreme Court's appeal rejection, prompted Keister to file an amended civil rights lawsuit against the University of Alabama in 2018.

Unfortunately for Keister, a federal judge in 2020 ruled that the sidewalk in question amounted to a "limited public forum," giving the university the right to demand he obtains a permit, which he likely never would have been able to obtain from the university.

Twitter users reacted to the decision. One wrote, "We are in the age where drag queens are welcomed into elementary schools, but preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ is suppressed."

Keister might have taken another defeat, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. His persistence to continue his evangelist mission is admirable, to say the least.

Written By:
Ryan Ledendecker

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