Queer News On Campus [QNOC] Articles Digest
For the week ending 2010.07.18
Brought to you by the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. http://www.lgbtcampus.org
Archives of the QNOC Digest can be found at http://queernewsoncampus.blogspot.com
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1. The Ontarion (University of Guelph) - The queer community on campus
2. The Chronicle of Higher Education - U. of Illinois to Review Case of Catholicism Instructor Accused of Antigay Bias
3. Chicago Tribune - U of I to review removal of religion professor
4. Inside Higher Ed - When Students are Homophobic
5. Chicago Tribune - Students protest religion instructor's removal
6. Inside Higher Ed - Teaching or Preaching?
7. KMBC.com - MU Professor Supports Phelps' Funeral Protests
1. The Ontarion, July 9, 2010
University of Guelph, University Centre Room 264, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
The queer community on campus
By Nicole Elsasser with files from Duncan Day-Myron
The University of Guelph strives to create a community for every student entering university and this is no less true for those seeking out a strong queer community on campus. There are multiple services and groups in place, each offering different support to those who identify as queer as well as creating a community in which to meet people.
The first service that the university offers is OUTline. OUTline is an anonymous phone line that is staffed by volunteers trained to assist callers with issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The phone line itself operates similar to the distress center or Women in Crisis where people can phone in and chat with us about any concerns or any sort of feelings they’re having surrounding those issues,” said OUTline coordinator Daniel Poulin. “We also support their friends, so allies, who may be struggling with some issues relating to their friends or colleagues.”
Poulin explained that OUTline also does workshops and training for anyone who’s interested as well as taking part in various special awareness weeks like Queer Identities Week, Trans Remembrance Day and the National Day Against Homophobia. As well as offering services to students, OUTline also creates opportunities for people interested in volunteering at the centre and waiting at the phone lines.
Along with OUTline, there are other campus groups that assist students with various aspects of the coming out process and other issues relating to sexual orientation. One of these services is a section of counseling services called CampOut that offers discussion groups for people to discuss their sexuality with others in the same position in a safe space.
Another very prominent force in the campus queer community is Gay Queer Equality (GQE) and they focus more on the advocacy and awareness side of the community as well as running social events. Another campus group that plays a major role in this community is Guelph Resources Centre for Gender Empowerment and Diversity who also run workshops and events as well as having an extensive collection of feminist literature and pamphlets.
“It’s really important that people know that these resources exist and that people realize that it’s okay to access them if they need them,” said Poulin.
For information about these resources go to the resources section of http://www.uoguelph.ca/~outline/index.shtml.
2. The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 13, 2010
1255 Twenty-Third St, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037
U. of Illinois to Review Case of Catholicism Instructor Accused of Antigay Bias
Top University of Illinois administrators have asked a faculty committee to consider whether the Urbana-Champaign campus violated the academic freedom of an adjunct professor of Roman Catholicism who lost his job after his remarks about homosexuality offended a student, the News-Gazette, a local paper, reported. The instructor, Kenneth Howell, has blamed the loss of his job on a student's complaint about how he discussed the morality of homosexual acts in an e-mail. Michael J. Hogan, president of the University of Illinois system, told the newspaper he had received at least 100 e-mails about the widely publicized case. "We want to be able to reassure ourselves that there was no infringement on academic freedom here," the paper quoted him as telling the Urbana-Champaign's faculty senate, whose committee on academic freedom and tenure has been asked to conduct the review.
3. Chicago Tribune, July 14, 2010
435 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
U of I to review removal of religion professor
By Manya A. Brachear
Faculty at the University of Illinois will review the case of a religion professor removed from the classroom after a student labeled his explanation of the Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality as "hate speech."
Chancellor Robert Easter has asked the University of Illinois' Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to determine whether the university violated the academic freedom of adjunct associate professor Kenneth Howell by barring him from teaching classes on introduction to Catholicism and modern Catholic thought.
Howell, who has taught on the Urbana- Champaign campus since 2001, was barred last month after explaining during class why the church believes that homosexual behavior violates natural moral law. He elaborated later in an e-mail to students, which lawyers say circulated around campus and prompted complaints.
"All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult," Howell wrote. "That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions."
Ann Mester, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said in an e-mail to faculty that Howell's statements "violate university standards of inclusivity." The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences houses the religious studies department.
Jordan Lorence, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based conservative legal consortium representing Howell, called the university's decision "quite shocking."
"The context is pretty clear. … He was trying to give clarity to what the Catholic position is," Lorence said. "They had had a robust discussion in class. He felt this e-mail would give greater clarity."
As part of an agreement with the St. John's Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry, Howell served as director of St. John's Institute on Catholic Thought, entitling him to teach Catholic theory in the department of religious studies. According to university officials, his position was paid for by the Diocese of Peoria.
The diocese did not return calls for comment.
4. Inside Higher Ed, July 14, 2010
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
When Students are Homophobic
By Dean Dad
This happens about once a year, even here in blue-state land.
A student shows up to complain that his professor is gay, and that s/he is “trying to convert everybody.” When I ask for specifics, the student quickly shifts gears to clarify that “I don't care what you do at home, but you shouldn't wave it around in my face.” Seeing a complete lack of response, the student then asserts victimhood, alleging that the professor won't give a fair shake to students who don't agree with her.
I've tried a number of different responses over the years, with varying degrees of success.
There's the basic “well, you know, we don't discriminate. If you have a concern with the professor, you should talk to her directly.” There's a certain legal clarity to that, but it doesn't seem to defuse the anger. Since it essentially replaces one accusation with another, it doesn't do much to build trust.
Then there's the “Columbo” approach. “Help me understand. How, exactly, is she trying to convert you?” This works a little better, since frequently “efforts to convert” amount to little more than “acknowledging the existence of gay people in the historical record.” When I've allowed students to try to piece together a bill of particulars, I've seen them slowly retreat in embarrassment when they realize that there's really nothing there. Sometimes it's nothing more than a short haircut on a woman. (I'm also struck at how frequently the accusations are false, but that's another post altogether.)
Once I even decided to roll with the absurdity to see what would happen. “What solution do you propose? Should I write a note to the professor asking her to stop being gay? Would that help?” The student's eyes were the size of dinner plates for a moment before he backed down, even laughing a little at himself. In retrospect, this approach probably assumed a little more common cultural ground than was wise, and I haven't tried it again, but it worked pretty well the one time I used it. I don't recommend it, given the potential for ruinous misunderstanding, but it made a hell of a teachable moment.
Lately I've been experimenting with the “put it in writing” approach. It's only fair, I explain, that a professor being complained about has the right to respond. Please write out your complaint, being as specific as possible, and we'll go from there. So far nobody has actually taken me up on that.
As silly as the complaints are, though, they inadvertently raise a real issue. Most of our discrimination procedures and policies are based on the idea that bias occurs between peers, or from the top down. Those are both real, of course, and they need to be addressed. But bias from the bottom up exists in a weird nether zone.
At some level, of course, students have always complained about professors, and always will. There's a certain degree of gossip and static that simply goes with the job, and a certain thickness of skin that any authority figure – in the classroom, the professor is clearly the authority figure – has to have. The student grapevine is real, and inevitable, and even healthy to some degree. But to me, there's a difference between students in a class blowing off steam together and a student complaining to a dean. The former is a cost of doing business, but the latter is serious.
In my cultural studies days, I learned that discrimination was really about power. But in these cases, the bias is among the disempowered. That doesn't make it any less real, but it does put many of our policies in an odd light.
I've read that student bias frequently surfaces in course evaluations, where students will punish non-traditional gender performance. Alpha males and nurturing females do well; nurturing males and alpha females get punished. But this is both more specific and more severe than that. There's a difference between 'liking someone a little less than someone else' and 'going to her boss to get her fired.'
(For the record, no, nobody gets called on the carpet here for 'suspicion of gayness.' I recognize that there may be regional variation in this.)
It has also occurred to me to wonder if I get more of these complaints since I look 'safe' -- a straightlaced, short-haired white guy. There's no real way of knowing, but I've been discomforted by some of the assumptions the complainers exhibited when they tried to bond with me.
Wise and worldly readers, have you seen (or do you have a suggestion for) a more graceful way to handle the next student who takes grave offense at a visibly (or apparently) gay professor?
5. Chicago Tribune, July 15, 2010
435 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
Students protest religion instructor's removal
By The Associated Press
URBANA, Ill. — A group of University of Illinois students are urging the school to reinstate a religion instructor who lost his job after a student complained that he engaged in hate speech by saying he agreed with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.
Fliers opposing the firing of adjunct instructor Kenneth Howell have been put up around campus, including one that warns professors that "Teaching your course could cost you your career." Students also have set up a Facebook page in support of Howell.
"What upset me about this, and what's upset other people, is we kind of feel students' sensitivity is starting to dictate what is taught at the university," Eli Lazar, who was among the students putting up fliers, told The News-Gazette of Champaign.
The university removed Howell at the end of the spring semester from the two classes he taught on Catholicism after a friend of one of Howell's students complained that Howell engaged in "hate speech." The student wrote in an e-mail to a university administrator that Howell told students about Catholic church doctrine that considers homosexual sex immoral after having told students that he's a practicing Catholic and agrees with church teachings.
Howell's salary was paid by the Diocese of Peoria through the on-campus St. John's Catholic Newman Center. Howell worked for the center until he lost his teaching position.
Howell has referred questions to his attorneys with the Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, who have demanded that he be reinstated. The attorneys said his firing is a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.
The university this week said a faculty committee is reviewing the decision to remove Howell.
Another supportive student, Eric Martin, is trying to organize a boycott of religion classes and wrote to new university President Michael Hogan. In his reply, Hogan asked Martin and others to reserve judgment until that review is complete.
"We do believe it's important to fully investigate all of the details related to this situation," Hogan wrote. "As I'm sure you're aware, it is sometimes the case that public reports may convey only part of the story."
6. Inside Higher Ed, July 15, 2010
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
Teaching or Preaching?
By Scott Jaschik
The headline on the press release sure sounds like this is a case to be outraged over: "Ill. prof. fired for teaching about Catholic beliefs in class on Catholicism," says the announcement from the Alliance Defense Fund. Many newspapers articles ran variations of that headline -- "University of Illinois Instructor Fired Over Catholic Beliefs," read one. Framed that way -- and plenty of people think that's exactly how it should be framed -- it's not surprising that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has taken a lot of heat for telling Kenneth Howell, an adjunct, that he is no longer wanted to teach a course on Roman Catholicism, his faith.
Others, however, say Howell's conduct was problematic, and raises issues either of church-state separation or of intolerance of gay people. While public universities have long taught about religion, some say that a professor at a state institution should not be advocating for a particular faith's views, even in the context of a course on religion. And some say that, regardless of whether the university was right to stop offering him courses, it was appropriate for the department to be alarmed by Howell's characterizations of gay people. A faculty committee at Illinois is now studying whether Howell's academic freedom was violated.
The dispute involves different kinds of tolerance: for religious views that may not be popular at secular institutions, for gay people, and for faculty members who don't want their every word dissected by potential critics.
And the situation is but the latest to involve an adjunct's academic freedom. Most observers of what's going on in Illinois believe that the debate would be very different if a tenured professor had sent the e-mail message that got Howell in trouble.
But the case is hardly unique in involving adjuncts and controversy. In California, June Sheldon lost her job teaching science courses at San Jose City College after a student complained about Sheldon's discussion, in a class on heredity, of the causes of homosexuality. Sheldon was talking about the "nature vs. nurture" debate with regard to why some people are gay, and students complained that her comments suggested that she did not believe anyone could be born a lesbian, and that the way she endorsed the "nurture" side of the debate was offensive. Sheldon disputes the statements that were attributed to her, and she is being backed in a lawsuit against the college by the Alliance Defense Fund, which is now backing Howell at Illinois. San Jose officials have said she was not assigned further courses because of questions about the appropriateness of what she was telling her students.
What the E-mail Said
In the Howell case at Illinois, the dispute centers on an e-mail message he sent students, so there is less of a debate over what was said (although plenty of debate over its meaning). In the e-mail, published by a local newspaper, The News-Gazette, Howell wrote that since the final exam would have a question on utilitarianism, he wanted to help with an example, and he then used issues related to homosexuality to illustrate. The e-mail is key to the case because Howell was told he would no longer be teaching after a friend of a student in the course sent a copy of the e-mail, along with a complaint, to faculty members.
The complaint stated that the e-mail is part of a pattern. "It sickens me to know that hard-working Illinoisans are funding the salary of a man who does nothing but try to indoctrinate students and perpetuate stereotypes. Once again, this is a public university and should thus have no religious affiliation. Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one's worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation," the complaint states.
In the e-mail in question, Howell explored how simplistic analysis could lead to poor decisions about sex. For instance, he said that to say that sex is not a problem as long as it is consensual could result in acts that aren't in fact "morally okay." He wrote: "If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a 10 year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of.
"The case of the 10 and 40 year olds might be excluded by adding a modification like 'informed consent.' Then as long as both parties agree with sufficient knowledge, the act would be morally okay. A little reflection would show, I think, that 'informed consent' might be more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its human master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong. I don't think that it would be wrong according to the consent criterion."
Then, citing Natural Moral Law, he focused on his view of gay sexuality. "To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the 'woman' while the other acts as the 'man.' In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body."
He closed the e-mail by saying: "Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions. As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality."
The Academic Freedom Issue
Based on the e-mail, he was told that he would not be asked to teach again -- even though he has a record of positive teaching evaluations. As soon as the issue went public, Howell received strong support from a variety of groups.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which frequently defends the rights of religious students or professors and has written to the university on Howell's behalf, said that the case raises key issues of academic freedom. He said that academics who question Howell's rights to send students such an e-mail "are creating a precedent that will come back to haunt them if anonymous students are allowed to complain about professors."
"The bigger picture problem is that this is teaching students -- the next generation of American leaders -- that you don't respond to opinions you disagree with with more debate, but by feeling offended and then complaining to some school authority so that the person is disciplined in some manner and censored," Lorence said. "We are teaching students they can have an environment cleansed of opinions that they disapprove. That's shocking."
While the Alliance Defense Fund is sympathetic to Howell's views, some of those backing the now-out-of-work adjunct are decidedly not. Claire Potter, a historian at Wesleyan University, writes frequently on her blog Tenured Radical as a scholar and a lesbian about issues of bias. She has questioned the criticism of Howell. In a blog post about the controversy, she noted that she teaches material dealing with religion and sexuality -- material that has the potential to offend some students -- and said that some have complained about her using a similar phrase ("hate speech") to one used by critics of Howell at Illinois.
"Don't get me wrong: the point of this post is not some narcissistic desire to demonstrate how super-tolerant I am of homophobic, right-wing theology," Potter wrote. "My question is: do we think it is OK to do unto others as they would do unto us? Do we guarantee academic freedom for some people and not others? Most important, to avoid public controversy of all kinds, is higher ed simply going to give students permission to shut out things they find offensive as if they live in an entirely different country from the people they disagree with? Worse, should we not begin to talk about how students -- in their teaching evaluations and in complaints to the administration -- are now routinely urging that teachers be fired who do not provide suitable validation for their students' view?"
Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, agreed. He called Howell's views "kooky and despicable, but I'm still inclined to protect his rights."
Church and State
The Alliance Defense Fund cited in its letter to Illinois numerous legal cases that grant faculty members at public universities broad First Amendment protection to teach their courses without fear that unpopular views will get them fired. Nelson cited AAUP policies as well.
But one issue at play is whether -- in teaching about religion at a public college or university -- a professor has a specific obligation to, as several in the debate have said, "teach, not preach." In other words, to be concerned about Howell you need not believe that professors have no right to express their views in class, but you might think that while it's fine to espouse neoconservative foreign policy or postmodern literary theory, it's not fine to push much of anything on religion.
Ayesha N. Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that those backing Howell "are wrong about the law" and said of the Illinois officials who told Howell he couldn't teach again that they made "the only reasonable choice because the teacher has no First Amendment right to engage in that kind of speech." When Howell and his backers say that he should be protected because he was just espousing his Catholic beliefs, they show that he crossed a line, she said. "Certainly professors can teach about religion, they can tell you what the Catholic Church has to say about certain matters, including about homosexuality, but what they can't do is advocate. You can teach but you can't preach," she said.
Khan noted that even as court after court has granted wide freedom of speech rights to public college and university faculty members, limits have been set about promoting religion. She cited three U.S. appeals court decisions: Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania, which in 1998 upheld a public university's right to tell a professor that he could not inject religious materials into his courses on educational media (a decision written, before he was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court, by Judge Samuel Alito); Bishop v. Aronov, which in 1991 upheld the right of a public university to bar an exercise physiology professor from sharing views on religion in class; and Piggee v. Carl Sandburg College, in which in 2006 upheld the right of a community college not to rehire an adjunct in cosmetology who gave anti-gay pamphlets based on her religious beliefs to a gay student.
A key difference between all three of those cases and the one at Illinois is that the courses involved were not about religion -- and so the issue of relevance came into play. But Khan said that the real commonality of those decisions with the Illinois situation is that courts believe that religious issues are different from other expression when it comes to public institutions.
The anonymous blogger Lesboprof also raised church-state issues in a post this week in which she noted that she normally finds herself in agreement with people like Cary Nelson and Tenured Radical on academic freedom issues. But she found herself, upon reading Howell's e-mail and its closing charge to students, with questions. "Aren't there valid arguments to say that Howell was not just expressing his opinion ('This is what I believe') but proselytizing? Can we hold the instructor to a different standard in the classroom than he holds in his role at the Newman Center?," referring to the Catholic center at the campus. She also asked whether Howell should "get a pass on saying anti-gay things repeatedly because he [is] articulating his personal Catholic faith?"
Further, Lesboprof questioned the idea that a university exists to have someone simply offer up the views of a religion. She recounted her frustration with a presentation on Islam by a Muslim woman at an academic conference who did not engage in discussion, but simply suggested that "real" Muslims would respond to issues in certain ways. Similarly, Lesboprof asked, why is it good for a university to have someone simply outline views of some Catholic leaders? "While one might teach 'what the Church says' in church or bible study, aren't we asking for something more critical, more thoughtful, and more historically and intellectually grounded in our college classrooms?"
Still other scholars are suggesting that -- whatever the academic freedom issues involved -- Howell's e-mail offers grounds for not wanting him to teach. Brian Leiter, the John P. Wilson Professor of Law and director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago, blogged: "I imagine any philosopher reading the e-mail can see a legitimate reason for terminating Howell's contract, namely, that his characterization of utilitarianism and the quality of reasoning and argument are incompetent."
Adjunct Rights (or Lack Thereof)
Comparing those appeals court cases also points to another issue raised by Howell's situation. As the court records detail, when tenured professors are accused of conduct that may raise church-state issues, they get visits or memos from administrators, chances to talk about the situation and perhaps disciplinary hearings. Adjuncts tend to simply not get rehired.
Matt Williams, vice president of the New Faculty Majority, a national group promoting adjunct interests, said that he didn't know the details of the complaints against Howell, but that he was concerned about the lack of due process. "The contingent faculty member has to be afforded due process, a chance to offer facts," he said. When that doesn't happen, and a faculty member is simply not rehired, "it really invites abuses" in that adjuncts can be unfairly denied employment.
Nelson of the AAUP said that he also viewed non-renewals of this sort as dubious. While administrators make the point that these adjuncts aren't being fired, Nelson said that "to the employee, the impact is the same." They lose the courses and the income.
The AAUP believes, he said, that any time an instructor is being judged based on teaching or other professional duties, a faculty committee should be doing the judging, with the instructor having the chance to present evidence under clear procedures. That should be the same, he said, for an adjunct or a tenured faculty member.
Nelson said that an open process might also yield solutions other than ending Howell's teaching career at Illinois. The campus has no shortage, he said, "of people disputing Howell's views" and that a department concerned abut those views might look to provide challenges in various ways -- lectures, other courses and so forth. "What's better for a student? To in a variety of learning environments hear these positions and the consequences of these positions advocated with passion and commitment or to hear them all presented with a style of even-handedness? I would rather hear them advocated strenuously."
Ann H. Franke, a lawyer who consults with many colleges on legal and other issues, said that the Howell case raises many issues related to the way colleges treat adjuncts. "A public institution effectively can fire an adjunct for no reason, but you can't fire an adjunct for a wrong reason," she said, referring to decisions on whether to renew a contract.
"A right reason to fire an adjunct would be that she refused to use the textbook required in a multi-section course. Another right reason would be that he was supposed to be teaching French, but he mostly talked about his Thursday night poker games," she said.
Whether disagreeing with an approach to a course was a valid reason could depend legally on a number of factors, she said. For instance, if the norm at a college is that people are hired year after year, there can be "an expectation" of renewal, barring a significant reason. At a college where renewals aren't the norm, they can't be said to be expected, she said.
Franke stressed that even if adjuncts don't have the same legal rights as tenured professors, they deserve real protection. "Adjunct faculty are teachers and they need academic freedom in the classroom -- so they are not just looking over their shoulders and mouthing the script somebody gives them to teach," she said. "That's not what a college classroom is about."
There is also, she noted, a middle ground between ignoring a complaint like the one filed about Howell and simply not renewing his contract. "When a department chair hears news of plausible concerns about any professor's classroom conduct, it's appropriate for the department chair to go to the individual and say 'Here's what I'm hearing. I'd like to talk to you about it.' I think it does a service to the institution and the individual and it doesn't need to be contentious," she said.
She said she would suggest in such discussions "reframing the objectionable statement" and substituting race or religion or gender or age for whatever group is being discussed. She said that it is possible to discuss these issues in ways that may allow a faculty member to continue to teach with freedom, but to be aware of student reactions.
Franke also said that she would urge those assessing such situation to look not only at the e-mail. "Could the e-mail have been better written? Probably so. But perfection is not, and should not be, the standard," she said. What would she like to know? Her questions point at a key part of the dispute, since the person who filed the complaint about Howell answered them in one way and his defenders do so in another way. Franke would ask: "Did Professor Howell respect different points of view that his students might take? They would be obliged to learn the course material. Beyond that, did he allow them, even encourage them, to argue with his views?"
7. KMBC.com, July 16, 2010
6455 Winchester Ave., Kansas City, MO 64133
MU Professor Supports Phelps' Funeral Protests
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A University of Missouri law professor has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to continue allowing Fred Phelps to picket soldiers' funerals with homophobic signs.
Christine Wells said in an amicus brief that the offensive speech at issue is protected free speech.
The nation's highest court will hear this fall litigation involving the Topeka church led by the Phelps family and Albert Snyder, who sued after the Kansas group protested the funeral of his Marine son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in 2006. The Kansas group had anti-gay signs and chants. Snyder was not gay.
According to MU, Wells argued in her brief that Phelps complied with all applicable laws and official directives and that Snyder did not see any of the signs.
Snyder knew about the protest ahead of time and used a side entrance to avoid seeing them.
"Phelps' admittedly offensive speech falls squarely within the bounds of the First Amendment protected speech," Wells said. "The Supreme Court protects offensive speech because it contributes to discussion on issues of public interest and because efforts to censor such speech are usually motivated by dislike of the speaker's message."
Wells argued in her brief that the First Amendment "does not allow punishment of speech solely because of its emotional impact on the listener," according to the news release from MU.
In her brief, Wells concluded allowing Snyder to get financial damages "would chill public discourse by allowing massive damage awards based on subjective criteria and would contradict the very purpose of the First Amendment."
Wells has been on the MU Law School faculty since 1993.
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