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North Carolina State University requires permit to talk about Jesus

Photo: ndsunewsdept/Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo: ncsunewsdept/Flickr/Creative Commons

Grace Christian Life (GCL) is a Christian organization registered with North Carolina State University. The organization recently launched a lawsuit against the university alleging they need a permit if they wanted to talk to anyone about Jesus at the university or even invite them to attend religious events.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that takes on free speech issues for Christians, is representing the GCL.

According to the group, they received a permit from the university to set up a table displaying materials about their organization. However, they were not allowed to leave their table or distribute materials.

ADF believes under the US constitution, the university is not allowed to limit free speech of any group or person, Christian or not. However, in this case it alleges the university even went further and specifically limited the free speech of the Christian organization, while giving other groups freedom to hand out their materials.

On its website, ADF alleges:

“The group obtained a permit to set up a table in the student union in January and were told at the time the permit was issued that they could speak with other students from behind the table or anywhere in the room; however, when they left the table on the permitted date, a member of the Student Involvement Office approached them and told them they must stay behind the table….

“Grace Christian Life members observed and documented numerous other groups freely speaking with other students and handing out literature either without a permit or outside of the area reserved by their table permit—sometimes in full view of the same officials that stopped Grace Christian Life from doing the same.”

ADF further stated:

“The courts have well established that a public university can’t require permits in this manner for this kind of speech—and certainly can’t enforce such rules selectively.

“Unconstitutional censorship is bad enough, but giving university officials complete discretion to decide when and where to engage in silencing students makes the violation even worse.”

So what are Christians to do when limited or even prohibited from preaching the gospel?

It is an interesting lawsuit, because in some ways it is similar to an incident that took place in the early church.

After the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the church was moving in power with many healings and miracles.

During its formative days, the church met in an area connected with the Jewish temple called Solomon’s portico. It was a colonnade on the eastern side of the Temple’s outer court (Acts 5:12).

They associated with Judaism because they were simply preaching Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and through the miracles God was confirming this message.

Threatened by the crowds they were attracting, the High Priest ordered the apostles thrown in a “public jail”(v 18). This was not some prison in the residences of the High Priest, but a jail used to incarcerate murderers and thieves.

Though ‘free speech’ was not a constitutional right in those days, it apparently was for God. During the middle of the night, an angel showed up at the jail, opened the doors, and let the apostles out of prison (Acts 5:19-21).

As the apostles were leaving, the angel instructed them:

20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. (Acts 5:20, 21 NASV)

Because the Angel told them to keep preaching, the apostles quickly understood that when it came to the Gospel they were not subject to man’s laws.

Man could forbid it, but God clearly was telling them to keep preaching, despite the risk.

The next day the High Priest called a council meeting to discuss the arrest of the apostles (Acts 5:17-31). It was then they discovered that the apostles had somehow escaped and were back preaching at Solomon’s Portico.

The High Priest ordered the guard to arrest the apostles and bring them before the council.

After they were dragged into the meeting, the High Priest asked the apostles to explain themselves, because they had been ordered to stop preaching, but here they were doing it again (v 28).

Because of the God-ordained jail break, the Apostles recognized higher laws were at work here. Peter responded:

“We must obey God rather than men.” (verse 29 NASV)

And to reinforce this message, God would break the Apostles out of jail two more times — Acts 12:5-17 and  Acts 16:16-40.


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