The University of North Carolina–Wilmington goes on trial Monday charged with retaliation against one of its professors for his political and social views after he converted from atheism to Christianity.
"Universities are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not a place where professors face retaliation for having a different view than university officials," says Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham of Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a lawsuit against the university on behalf of Dr. Mike Adams, a criminology professor.
The ADF contends that the university refused to promote Adams because his nationally syndicated opinion columns espoused religious and political views and ran contrary to the opinions held by university officials.
"Disagreeing with an accomplished professor's religious and political views is no grounds for denying him a promotion," Barham adds in a statement. "As the [U.S. Court of Appeals for] 4th Circuit affirmed, protecting academic freedom for university professors is critical, and opinion columns are among the purest examples of free speech that the First Amendment protects."
In 2011, the 4th Circuit wrote that "no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment…. Adams' columns addressed topics such as academic freedom, civil rights, campus culture, sex, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, religion, and morality. Such topics plainly touched on issues of public, rather than private, concern."
Adams frequently received accolades from his colleagues after the university hired him as an assistant professor in 1993 and promoted him to associate professor in 1998, when he was an atheist. But after his conversion to Christianity in 2000, he was subjected to "intrusive investigations, baseless accusations, and the denial of promotion to full professor even though his scholarly output surpassed that of almost all of his colleagues," says the ADF, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
In 2005, Dr. Kimberly J. Cook became chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the university. Cook, an outspoken atheist who openly criticized Christianity, described to a recruitment committee her ideal candidate for a teaching position as "a lesbian with spiked hair and a dog collar," the ADF adds.
Adams completed his 11th peer-reviewed publication in 2006 and applied for promotion to full professorship. But during a closed-door meeting on Sept. 14, Cook and senior faculty members decided not to promote Adams.
The trial, which begin March 17 at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division, is expected to continue each day through at least March 19.