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Court rules public university may discipline professor for religious speech

February 25, 2014

A federal district court has ruled that public universities may discipline professors for religious speech.

In 2009, a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi, referring to a law professor, complained that “sometimes during conversations with Dr. [Thomas] Payne, religion or Bible verses are usually brought up by him in some way. This makes me and others very uncomfortable … Dr. Payne made the statement that anyone who is not a Christian is going to hell.”

Subsequently, Payne alleged that the university “subjected him to various adverse employment actions … including, but not limited to, the denial of promotion, adverse annual performance reviews, the denial of permission to engage in outside employment, and the receipt of a notice that his contract would not be renewed,” according to the court decision.

Judge Keith Starrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, cited another case in ruling that the

plaintiff apparently argues that the First Amendment permits him to engage in any religious speech he desires without reprisal, even within the context of his employment as a professor at a public university. But “when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.”


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  • Posted by: Leopardi - Feb. 25, 2014 10:06 PM ET USA

    This is not a free speech or religious freedom issue at all. It is instead a matter of a tenured professors prerogative to select course content (broadly defined) according to his acedemic interpretations. That an attempt was made to limit his speech based on his "employment as a public employee" (ie, a tenured professor) clearly places the issue in the venue of "rights of acedemic tenure"...not religious speech or 1st ammendment rights. Shame on you, judge!