LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An evangelist who preaches at campuses nationwide has settled a lawsuit over his being barred from speaking Murray State University in western Kentucky.
Murray State changed its policy on outside speakers on campus by creating a free-speech zone available to anyone who signs up.
That change, made Nov. 30, was enough to satisfy James G. "Brother Jim" Gilles, an Evansville, Ind., native now based in Symsonia in western Kentucky, who sued the university in 2006. Notice of the settlement was filed late Dec. 21 in U.S. District Court in Louisville.
Gilles claimed MSU deprived him of his rights to free speech and to exercise his religion by rejecting his requests to preach at the Curris Center — a high-traffic area frequented by students and visitors.
Gilles says the settlement gives him what he's been after — access to preach on campus. Gilles said he planned to return to Murray State in the spring, once the weather warms up.
"It's not too conducive to preach when it's colder," Gilles told the Associated Press on Dec. 22. "Most students are too cool to wear coats and stay warm. They don't stay to listen long."
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., legal organization founded in part by the Christian group Focus on the Family, represented Gilles in the lawsuit.
Nate Kellum, a senior legal counsel for the group, was pleased that Murray State officials changed the policy.
"Universities are not permitted to discriminate against speakers based on the content of their message," Kellum said.
Messages left for Bob Jackson, associate vice president for development and governmental relations at Murray State, were returned in time for this article.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell turned down Gilles' request in July for an injunction suspending the school's old policy requiring an on-campus sponsor for outside speakers on campus. Russell in said in his ruling that the requirement was not a burden for Gilles.
Gilles began speaking at Murray State in the 1980s and at various times has made disparaging remarks about students and professors, including referring to sorority members as prostitutes.
In October 2004, the university told Gilles he needed sponsorship from a university organization or department because his talks were considered solicitation.
Gilles contended that he was not required to have a sponsor before 2004 and that MSU officials arbitrarily enforced the student handbook's solicitation policy.
Since 1981, the year Gilles says he found God while attending a Van Halen concert, the Pentecostal preacher has traveled across the nation to speak at dozens of universities and state capitals.
He's fought speaking restrictions at other colleges, including the University of Missouri, Virginia Tech and Vincennes University in Indiana with some success.