Christian Professors Speeches Columns Protected by First Amendment
April 6th, 2011
A University of North
Carolina–Wilmington professor’s speeches and columns are fully
protected by the First Amendment, according to a published decision handed down
Wednesday by the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys contended
that criminology professor Mike Adams was denied a promotion unconstitutionally
because university officials were hostile to the religious and political views
he espoused in his columns and speeches.
A lower court had said that Adams’ speeches
and columns on matters of public concern were not protected by the First
Amendment and instead constituted “official” speech as part of his job duties.
The 4th Circuit disagreed, finding that Adams’ columns and speeches
constituted protected, private speech and that university officials could be
held personally liable for damages should Adams
ultimately prevail in the case.
“Christian professors should not be discriminated against because of their
beliefs, and this decision thoroughly upholds that,” said ADF Senior Counsel
David French, who argued
before the court in January. “The 4th Circuit’s decision is a
ringing vindication of the academic freedom of public university
professors. Disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s religious and
political views is no grounds for refusing him promotion. Opinion columns
are among the purest examples of free speech protected by the First Amendment.”
In its opinion in Adams v. The Trustees of the
University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the 4th Circuit wrote that “no
individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public
employment. . . . Adams’ columns
addressed topics such as academic freedom, civil rights, campus culture, sex,
feminism, abortion, homosexuality, religion, and morality. Such topics
plainly touched on issues of public, rather than private, concern. . . .
The Defendants’ arguments to the contrary rest on the same fallacy engaged by
the district court, and focus not on the nature of Adams’
speech at the time it was made, but on his inclusion of those materials in the
‘private’ context of his promotion application. Nothing in the district
court’s analysis or the Defendants’ contentions rebut the conclusion that Adams’ speech was that of ‘a citizen speaking on a matter
of public concern.’”
A former atheist, Adams frequently received accolades from his colleagues
after the university hired him as an assistant professor in 1993 and promoted
him to associate professor in 1998. However, after his conversion to
Christianity in 2000, Adams was subjected to a
campaign of academic persecution that culminated in his denial of promotion to
full professor, despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and
The case now goes back to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
of North Carolina for further proceedings consistent with the 4th Circuit’s
conclusions on Adams’ viewpoint discrimination
and retaliation claims.