As faculty members and staff of a public university or college, you have constitutional rights, and we encourage you to understand how they apply in your daily campus environment.
You should not be afraid to exercise your free speech rights on campus. With an increasingly secularized campus culture, we have seen the need to help professors, like you, to understand your legal freedoms provided by the U.S. Constitution and to integrate your faith with your profession.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has never precisely defined freedom of expression as it applies to a professor teaching in the classroom, the Court long ago said in Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of New York:
Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools. The classroom is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ The Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth out of a multitude of tongues, (rather) than through any kind of authoritative selection.53
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court found that public employees do not have a First Amendment right to speak while conducting their job duties.54 However, the Court specifically exempted scholarship and teaching from this rule.55 As of now, the free speech rights of faculty members in the classroom must be balanced with universities’ ability to determine the curricula and topics for their courses. While faculty members have the right to speak in the classroom—at a minimum—they should ensure that their free expression is germane to the classroom curriculum.
At present, Alliance Defending Freedom is involved in precedent-setting cases that will help determine the extent of a professor’s academic freedom in the classroom. For the time being, however, the best reading of the available case law is that professors are on much stronger ground when their expression directly relates (is “germane,” as noted above) to the subject of the class. When a professor expresses opinions or makes comments unrelated to the subject matter of the class (such as, say, issuing opinions for or against the Iraq war in a physics class), the university can almost certainly restrict such activities, if it chooses.
As a public university professor or staff member, you have the right to be free from discrimination, thought-reform practices, and academic and employment retaliation while on campus. When public universities pursue academic and employment retaliation against you as Christian faculty and staff for lawfully expressing your religious beliefs, they are in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution. While your scholarship can always be evaluated on the merits and religious views cannot insulate you from academic inquiry, you cannot be denied equal opportunity merely because of your identity as a Christian or because of your conservative religious, cultural, or political beliefs. In other words, universities cannot become by policy or practice “Christian-free” or “conservative-free” zones.