Blackout in the Black Hills?
November 12, 2012
The Center for Religious Expression filed lawsuit today against various officials with South Dakota School of Mines & Technology over a policy that treats religious speech like commercial speech, compelling a local Christian evangelist, Mark Gavin, to forego open areas of the campus, sit at an isolated vendor table, and pay a $50.00 fee, for the occasion to hand out literature or carry on a conversation about his faith.
Gavin asked SDSM&T officials if he could discuss his faith at the either the Quad or a grassy area in front of the Surbeck Center, both being open, accessible spots on campus, but was denied this opportunity. Instead, school officials relegated Gavin to a vendor’s table in Hoven’s Hub, an isolated area located inside the Surbeck Center. And for this limited option, Gavin was required to pay a $50.00 fee. Finding the burdens intolerable, and having no success in reaching a compromise, Gavin filed lawsuit seeking judgment declaring the university policy unconstitutional and enjoining officials from applying the policy to his religious speech.
“Against the backdrop of Mt. Rushmore, honoring four men known for their stand for freedom, that SDSM&T is stripping Gavin of his,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “Religious speech is different from commercial speech and cannot be treated the same. It is unconscionable that they would force Gavin to sit a vendor’s table and pay a $50 fee like he was selling credit cards. He only wants to talk about his faith to people who are willing to listen.”
The lawsuit stresses that the areas where Gavin wants to speak - the Quad and the grassy area in front of the Surbeck Center - are uniquely suitable for his expression, appearing and functioning like public parks.
In conjunction with the lawsuit, CRE also filed a motion for preliminary injunction on Gavin’s behalf. “The infringement on Gavin’s speech has gone on long enough,” Kellum explained. “The public university is the marketplace of ideas and Gavin’s ideas deserve fair and equal treatment.”