On March 23, 2020, Liberty University (LU), a private institution in Lynchburg, VA, placed 20 temporary “no trespassing” signs sized 18” x 24” at the main entrances of its camp us. On March 24, 2020, LU placed copies of these same signs at off campus locations in the City of Lynchburg. The signs read “Liberty University Campus, Open ONLY to Students, Employees, & Those
Conducting University Business, Until Further Notice, NO TRESPASSING.” As part of their efforts to keep students safe, the university placed these signs in order to enforce the closure of campus and to limit the presence of unnecessary parties on campus during the state of emergency due to COVID-19.
On March 25, 2020, Stefan “Alec” MacGillis, a politics and government reporter for ProPublica, came onto LU’s campus. He took photographs and interviewed students. On March 26, 2020 MacGillis’ observations of the university and photographs were published by ProPublica. One of the photographs credited to MacGillis depicted a seat found inside a campus building with a sign
that read “Stop, Closed for Social Distancing.” On March 27, 2020, a LU student met Julia Rendleman, a freelance photojournalist, on campus. The student guided Rendleman around campus and posed for a picture in front of a university
building. The student reported he was unaware of the posted no trespassing signs. On March 29, 2020, photos credited to Rendleman were published in a New York Time s article. The photographs clearly depict areas of LU’s campus including a seating area inside of a university building that was taped off to prevent congregations of students or other persons.
On April 6, 2020, Detective Sergeant Alan Wilkins with the Liberty University Police Department sought and obtained warrants for Rendleman and MacGillis for 1 count of trespassing each in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-119. The code provides in relevant part: [i]f any person without authority of law goes upon or remains upon the lands, buildings or premises of another, or any portion or area thereof, after having been forbidden to do so, either orally or in writing, by the owner, lessee, custodian, or the agent of any such person, or other person lawfully in charge thereof, or after having been forbidden to do so by a sign or signs posted by or at the direction of such persons or the agent of any such person or by the holder of any easement or other right-of-way authorized by the instrument creating such interest to post such signs on such lands, structures, premises or portion or area thereof at a place or places where it or they may be reasonably seen…he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.