CINCINNATI (AP) — John McGlone went to the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville intent on preaching God’s word to college students but found himself tangled up with university administrators over a policy requiring student sponsorship to speak at the school.
After seeing his request denied, McGlone, a traveling evangelist from Breeding, Ky., sued the university, but lost. Now, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is weighing whether the university’s restrictions pass constitutional muster.
Judges Boyce Martin, John M. Rogers and John Tarnow quizzed attorneys for McGlone and the school Tuesday, pressing each side on whether there are permissible restrictions for on-campus speech and if the ones at Tennessee go too far.
“What about going to a football game?” Martin asked the school’s attorney. “Is everyone there an invitee? What if you don’t have a ticket? What if you just want to tailgate?”
The court did not indicate when it would rule in the case.
McGlone, who travels to universities in the Southeast and along the Atlantic coast, visited the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville five times between 2008 and August 2010 to express his religious beliefs. McGlone generally set up shop in an open-air amphitheater on a pedestrian walkway. Before arriving, McGlone notified university officials of his plans and received no objection.
On Aug. 25, 2010, university officials told McGlone that he needed sponsorship of a campus-affiliated organization to speak. He was kept from preaching on campus despite protestations about free speech rights. The next year, McGlone asked 10 Christian-based student organizations to sponsor his time on campus, but none responded to the solicitations.
University attorney Matthew Marion Scoggins III told the judges the school has narrowly tailored the rules for campus visitors to speak and those rules wouldn’t apply to people attending festivities such as football games. Scoggins conceded that someone could rent a truck with loudspeakers and drive up and down the public streets on campus and there would be little that administrators could do.
“We would have to call the city of Knoxville,” Scoggins said.
Rogers asked McGlone’s attorney, Nathan Kellum, why his client didn’t just use the public streets to spread his message.
“If there were an open area … why aren’t these streets that run through campus OK?” Rogers asked.
“He liked to go where the students are,” Kellum said.
In February 2012, the appeals court forced Tennessee Tech to change its policies on campus speakers. McGlone sued that school because he wanted to preach on the Cookeville campus in 2009, but wasn’t allowed to because of a university policy requiring he give two-week notice and disclose what he wanted to speak about.
In that case, a judge concluded that the school’s two week notice policy was unconstitutional. Tennessee Tech has since altered its policy on campus speakers, including narrowing how much notice the school must be given.
Kellum told the judges the University of Tennessee’s rules differ from other schools because of the invitation requirement.
“It’s completely at the whim of finding a student to invite him,” Kellum said.
Tarnow posed a final question in the arguments that drew a small chuckle from the attorneys.
“Why doesn’t he establish a scholarship and as a condition of the scholarship he be invited to speak?” Tarnow asked. “Just a thought. You don’t have to answer.”