6th Circuit: Diversity trumps religious freedom
Bob Unruh - WND
Says employee personal statements must align with university policy
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that university diversity policies trump the First Amendment’s protections of religion and religious expression, but the dispute will continue, as a legal team representing former University of Toledo worker Crystal Dixon has requested a rehearing.
At issue are Dixon’s personal religious statements regarding homosexuality and the school’s affirmative action program for homosexuals.
Dixon was dismissed from her university post after she wrote a personal letter to the editor of a local newspaper objecting to the characterization of homosexuality as being the same as race.
“I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifesetyle are ‘civil rights victims.’ Here’s why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a black woman,” she wrote. “I am genetically and biologically a black woman and very pleased to be so as my Creator intended. Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle evidenced by the growing population of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex Gays) and Exodus International just to name a few.”
The university fired her from her position in the University of Toledo’s human resources division for writing the letter, citing her religious beliefs. She sued, and a lower court concluded that the school’s diversity efforts trumped Dixon’s First Amendment rights.
The appeals court now has agreed, according to the American Freedom Law Center, or AFLC, which represents Dixon.
AFLC asked for a rehearing because the appeals court panel assumed that the university had editorial control over any of Dixon’s statements because of her position with the school.
“Dixson was fired from her employment as associate vice president for human resources with the University of Toledo because she expressed her personal, Christian views as a private citizen in an opinion piece published in the Toledo Free Press. Plaintiff did not occupy a political position nor did she publicly criticize any identified policy of her employer in her writing. Rather, plaintiff was fired for expressing her personal religious beliefs in a local newspaper on a very controversial issue: gay rights,” the legal team said in its rehearing request.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court has long stated, ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”
The legal team argued: “Here, plaintiff was fired because her personal religious beliefs did not comport with the university’s ‘diversity’ values. In fact, plaintiff’s speech was in response to a published editorial – it was not in response to anything her employer did or did not do. As defendants acknowledged in their brief, the only part of plaintiff’s speech that remotely touched upon university policies ‘was arguable supportive of the university.’”
The rehearing petition explained that the appeals court panel gave Dixon’s speech “no consideration” and instead ruled for the school “based on the presumption” the school controlled Dixon’s personal speech.
But the attorneys pointed out that precedent is “well settled that ‘a state cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes the employee’s constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression.’”
“There is no dispute that plaintiff was speaking on a matter of public concern and was thus terminated as a result of her speech,” the petition said. “And there is no reasonable dispute that when plaintiff was writing her opinion piece on her personal computer from her home on a Sunday, she was not speaking pursuant to her official duties with the university, but as a private citizen.
“This speech must be accorded the greatest weight … and not presumptively dismissed, as the panel did here, thus allowing a government employer to suppress speech based on a broad rendering of its ‘diversity’ values,” the petition said.
“Additionally, the university president, Defendant [Lloyd] Jacobs, was permitted to express his personal and controversial opinions on the very same subject in the Toledo Free Press without being punished for doing so.”
In fact, Jacobs announced a very public threat in his guest column over the issue, stating, “We will be taking certain internal actions in this instance to more fully align our utterances and actions with this value system.”
Crystal Dixon’s “comments do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo,” he wrote.
“It is necessary … for me to repudiate much of her writing.”
WND reported that as the appeals court decision approached, David Yerushalmi of AFLC said, “It should be concerning to all Americans that officials at a public institution such as the University of Toledo believe they can fire someone for violating the university’s ‘value system’ even though such actions clearly violate the Constitution.
“This case only reinforces the fact that the liberal idea of ‘diversity’ is code for the tyranny of political correctness.”
AFLC co-founder Robert Muise said at the time, “Anti-Christian bias and bigotry is a hallmark of the ‘diversity’ crusade that is promoted in our universities and other public institutions – and this case is an egregious example of this one-way diversity and its pernicious impact on our fundamental rights.”
It was April 3, 2008, when Dixon read an opinion piece published in the Toledo Free Press that compared homosexuality to the civil rights struggles of African-Americans.
“Dixon, an African-American and practicing Christian, disagreed with this comparison and subsequently submitted her own opinion piece to express her personal viewpoint,” AFLC reported.
“Dixon’s opinion piece, published on April 18, 2008, in the newspaper’s online edition, stated, in relevant part, ‘I respectfully submit a different perspective for [the author of the original op-ed] and Toledo Free Press readers to consider . … I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are civil rights victims.’”
She signed only her name and made no mention of her position at the university.
One month later, Dixon got a letter from Jacobs terminating her employment over “the public position you have taken in the Toledo Free Press.”
She sued over First and 14th Amendment violations.