iStock 45331470 SMALL 300x200 Teacher, May I Have Permission To Tell My Classmate About Jesus?

An aerial view of the North Carolina State University campus, the Memorial Belltower (center) and surrounding area in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Over the decades, one of the most interesting things I have done was to go onto university campuses and into the broader community to speak with people individually to ask them to consider the claims of Jesus Christ on their lives. In doing so, both in the United States and overseas, I have never sought governmental permission or approval for sharing my Christian faith. Although street preaching, and passing out tracts and pamphlets, appears to have become less common in our country in recent decades, it is still one of the most common ways in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and spread in many parts of the world. (If you want to see American Christians get stressed and nervous, simply invite them to join you for a few hours on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon to share the Gospel with people that they don’t know. You will hear that the most thoughtful responses range from “Oh, I don’t have a spiritual gift for evangelism,” or “I like to share the Gospel through my actions.” The most recent statement I heard, and made earnestly, was “How do I do that?”) But despite often general hesitation, such evangelization is fruitfully blessed by these divine appointments, including in America.

Grace Christian Life (“GCL”) is a Christian student group at North Carolina State University (the “University”), and GCL has long been recognized as a student organization by the 35,000-student University in Raleigh. GCL engages in religious discussions with students across the University, and this involves the distribution of written materials, such as event invitations and religious tracts. But apparently, last September, the University implemented a new policy in which school officials barred GCL members from evangelizing students and others on the University campus. In the new policy, groups and individuals who seek to engage in “non-commercial solicitation” on University grounds must first obtain the “written permission of Student Involvement in advance,” or risk facing school sanctions or even criminal prosecution. (I’d love to be on that jury!) The University’s policy provides no specific timeline for granting or denying permission. Thus, it is clear that an indefinite delay is tantamount to denial.

How did this dispute arise? Last year, a student member of GCL and a pastor were admonished by the Associate Director of University Student Centers, T. J. Willis, Ed.D., for asking people in the student union (where many such evangelistic encounters take place) if they “needed prayers.” At that time, Dr. Willis told the GCL member that they were prohibited from engaging in religious conversations with other students without a permit. As you can imagine, the students rightfully complained, and lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”), a nonprofit legal foundation that advocates for religious liberty, sent the infamous “lawyer letter” on behalf of GCL in which the ADF reminded University officials that the only permission slip required by the student is the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees free speech. But the recalcitrant University officials refused to revise their ill-advised permit policy. “We believe that the only permit a student needs to speak on college campuses is the First Amendment,” ADF attorney Tyson Langhofer told FoxNews.com. When the University refused to revise the permit policy, the ADF sued the University in April on behalf of GCL students. In response, the University called the lawsuit “frivolous and without merit.” Nevertheless, and despite its frivolity, earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III, a George W. Bush appointee, issued a preliminary injunction blocking the University from imposing its permit policy on GCL students. In his decision, Judge Dever wrote that it is likely that the University’s permit policy “facially violates the First Amendment.” However, University officials have until this Friday to respond to ADF’s request for a permanent injunction. Following the issuance of Judge Dever’s decision, Fred Hartman, University spokesman, said in a prepared statement that the University would follow the order. Mr. Hartman’s statement further declared, “The [University] has never required students to get permits to engage and talk to other students – regardless of the subject matter.” Perhaps that memo didn’t make it to the desk of Dr. Willis.

Just imagine what we have now come to in America, where Christian university students need to get a “permit” to pray with and talk to their classmates about the Lord Jesus. This new infringement of religious liberty is yet another very important reason why the election on November 8, 2016, require the prayerful consideration and vote of every Christian believer as the liberties guaranteed in the Constitution appear to hang by a frayed thread.