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UT eyes new policy for speakers after preacher suit

Megan Boehnke, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

KNOXVILLE (MCT) – University of Tennessee trustees are set to consider a new campus speaker policy Wednesday, six months after a federal appeals court ruled existing regulations were unconstitutionally vague.

The new rule would require speakers to be invited by a student organization or faculty member, though there is still some leeway for visitors to engage with students on campus streets and adjoining sidewalks.

"We're still very supportive of the need to be able to have freedom of speech for speakers who are invited to campus by our people, but if you're going to come to our campus and speak, you need to be invited," said UT President Joe DiPietro.

"The key here is we need to be able to exercise some discretion about a disruptive circumstance."

The policy will go before the trustees' Finance and Administration Committee at the UT board of trustees meeting on the system's Martin campus Wednesday afternoon. If approved, the matter will go before the full board Thursday.

The proposed change comes after Kentucky-based preacher John McGlone filed a federal lawsuit against the university when he was asked to leave the Knoxville campus in 2010.

McGlone said he was given two explanations as to why he wasn't welcome in the open-air amphitheater where he had previously expressed his beliefs five times over two years without trouble.

The dean of student affairs and a UT attorney relied on separate policies governing free speech, one requiring sponsorship by a student organization and the other requiring an invitation from a student, faculty or staff member.

A U.S. District judge tossed out the lawsuit, but the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed.

"As a result of the inconsistency between the two policies, it is unclear to the ordinary person who has the authority to grant sponsorship," wrote appellate Judge Boyce Martin Jr. in the August opinion.

That vagueness opens the door for arbitrary and discriminatory applications of the policies, the court ruled. The appeals court resurrected the lawsuit and approved a temporary injunction.

That injunction, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier, was filed Friday, essentially resolves the suit by preventing the University of Tennessee from enforcing the sponsorship requirement of the two previous policies. The injunction does not, however, prevent the university from drafting a new regulation that includes a sponsorship component or McGlone from again challenging any new policies.

The injunction also requires UT to pay $75,000 in legal fees to McGlone's attorneys.

McGone, whose ministry targets college campuses across the U.S., has also successfully sued Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville over the issue.

News Sentinel staff reporter Jamie Satterfield contributed to this story.

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