Payne has been outspoken about his faith in class or during class activities. One graduate student told of Payne encouraging her to pray and said "anyone who is not a Christian is going to hell." Payne didn't contest that he made the statements but disagreed that what he said was inappropriate. Furthermore, Payne claimed USM retaliated against him through negative performance reviews as well as by not promoting him. Payne believes USM's policy had a "chilling effect" on his First Amendment rights "to express [his] Christian walk in the workplace."
Judge Starrett ruled that the First Amendment provides faculty members at public colleges and universities considerable latitude about what they may say. But, he maintained, the First Amendment does not restrict a state university from cautioning professors against making statements that favor one religion or another, and that may seem to insult the religious views of some students.
People can argue about whether "cautioning" means "warning" or purposely setting a professor up for firing. But, what interests The Motley Monk about this case is the graduate student's claim that Payne's statements caused many students to feel "uncomfortable." The graduate student noted that there was at least one non-Christian (an international student who was Hindu) enrolled in the class.
There are a lot of beliefs--perhaps not religious beliefs, but beliefs nonetheless--that opinionated professors, and especially liberal professors, preach from the bully pulpit of their classrooms. Oftentimes, their sermons make many students feel uncomfortable. But, in the instance that the professors are ideologues, student complaints that these professors are proselytizing them are routinely ignored, as the professors and their academic administrators reject the complaints out of hand. They claim not that professors are protected by the First Amendment but by "academic freedom"...they're simply "pressing beyond the boundaries of current thought."
That's what is interesting about this case: It highlights the duplicity present in U.S. public higher education today. Christians aren't free to preach their beliefs in institutions of public higher education and they shouldn't do so. Yet, ideologues of various other stripes are hired, encouraged, and even promoted for doing so, despite making students feel uncomfortable.
Much of what's being tolerated in the name of academic freedom today is an affront to the basic purpose of higher education: The unfettered pursuit of truth.
Let the discussion begin...
To read Judge Starrett's ruling, click on the following link: