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College Student Prevails After Refusing Assignment to Support Same-Sex Adoption

A Missouri State University professor tried to force Emily Brooker to advocate for same-sex adoption in violation of her religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Emily Brooker is seen reading a book

Since our founding, Alliance Defending Freedom has been fighting to protect First Amendment rights wherever they are being threatened. Unfortunately, college and university campuses are some of the places where these attacks are most common.

One of the very first cases that ADF fully funded helped guarantee that religious groups on public campuses received the same access to student funds as other groups. We have continued advocating for First Amendment freedoms since that victory, and in 2006, our pursuit of freedom led us to Emily Brooker.

Who is Emily Brooker?

Emily Brooker is a former student in the School of Social Work at Missouri State University. Her Christian faith is a defining characteristic of her life, and this was evident during her time at Missouri State.

Emily helped found a Christian sorority at the university, and she spent time volunteering at a local Christian outreach in the form of a coffee shop. But she never anticipated she would be punished for practicing her faith on campus.

Brooker v. The Governors of Missouri State University

During the spring semester in 2005, Emily enrolled in a course called “Social Welfare Policy and Services,” which was a required course for her degree. The professor of the course regularly expressed leftist views in the class, and Emily sometimes respectfully voiced her disagreement.

At the end of the course, the professor gave Emily a “C,” and he accused her of acting unprofessionally in class. The professor refused to change the grade, but Emily appealed to the chairperson of the department, who raised the grade to a “B.”

For the next semester, Emily enrolled in the next required course in the sequence, “Social Welfare Policy and Services II.” The course was taught by the same professor.

After a few weeks of the semester had passed, the professor brought someone from an LGBT advocacy organization to speak in class. He then informed the class that they would work on a project advocating for same-sex adoption, which would include writing a letter to the Missouri legislature that all students were expected to sign.

When the time came to sign the letter, Emily informed the professor that she did not wish to sign it because it violated her Christian beliefs. She asked to write and sign a letter on a different issue to complete the assignment. The professor initially said no, but he later agreed.

Just before finals for the semester, Emily received a call informing her that she was being charged with a Level 3 Grievance—the highest charge against a student in the School of Social Work. She was forced to attend a hearing with many university faculty and staff members, and they accused her of violating the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics because she had declined to advocate for same-sex adoption.

The faculty and staff told Emily she must write a paper explaining the difference between personal and professional beliefs and describing how she would “lessen the gap” between her religious beliefs and her duties as a social worker. They also forced her to say that she would be willing to place children in adoptive homes with same-sex couples and sign a contract acknowledging how she must behave, and if she declined, they said she would not be able to complete her degree.

Even though Emily disagreed with these requirements, she complied with them so that she could earn her degree. Following her graduation, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on her behalf.


Shortly after ADF attorneys filed suit, Missouri State officials agreed to a settlement in which they removed the grievance from Emily’s record and required the professor to resign from administrative duties. They also placed the professor on non-teaching leave for the rest of the semester.

Case timeline

  • Fall 2005: A professor at Missouri State University tried to require Emily to sign a letter to the state legislature advocating for same-sex adoption. Emily asked for an alternate assignment, and after initially refusing, the professor agreed.
  • December 2005: Emily was informed that she was being charged with a Level 3 Grievance, the highest level of complaint in the School of Social Work. She was forced to meet with faculty and staff, who told her she must compromise her religious beliefs to continue pursuing her degree.
  • September 2006: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on Emily’s behalf.
  • November 2006: Missouri State officials agreed to a settlement in which they purged the grievance from Emily’s record, required the professor to resign from his administrative duties, and placed the professor on non-teaching leave for the remainder of the semester.

The bottom line

Public school officials cannot force students to express messages that they disagree with.