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NC school adopts free speech policy after firing professor who opposed critical theory

ADF attorneys favorably settle lawsuit on behalf of Dr. David Phillips, unlawfully fired after speaking about harms of racially divisive ideology
Dr. David Phillips, former professor at North Carolina Governor's School

RALEIGH, N.C. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have favorably settled a lawsuit on behalf of a professor fired by North Carolina education officials after he spoke out about the harms of the racially divisive ideology the school was embracing.

As dictated by the settlement agreement, the North Carolina Governor’s School has paid Dr. David Phillips approximately four years of his annual stipend and adopted a policy to respect faculty free speech in its elective seminars—like the ones Phillips gave shortly before he was fired. The policy affirms the Governor’s School’s desire “to offer elective seminars that present a wide range of viewpoints.” And it states that the school “accords faculty members the freedom and responsibility to craft academic and intellectual experiences that reflect their unique viewpoints and expertise.”

“Teachers shouldn’t be fired for fostering intellectual diversity on campus. A good education includes providing students with a wide range of differing viewpoints to explore,” said ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton. “Dr. Phillips was beloved, respected, and well-regarded by both students and faculty as an advocate for students who felt that their voices weren’t being heard and their perspectives weren’t welcomed at the Governor’s School. We’re pleased to favorably settle this case on his behalf. Now, the Governor’s School’s policy rightly respects teachers’ freedom of speech, which greatly benefits all students and families.”

Phillips was a well-respected English professor who spent eight summers teaching at the Governor’s School, a residential summer program for the state’s most talented high school seniors. For years, Phillips spoke out against the school’s increasing adoption of critical theory, an ideology that views everyone and everything through the lens of characteristics like race, sex, and religion, labeling people as perpetual oppressors or victims based on group membership alone. After Phillips delivered three optional seminars in June 2021 critiquing critical theory and the increasing bias and lack of viewpoint diversity in higher education, North Carolina public school officials fired him mid-session without any explanation.

Following these lectures, a group of students and staff members reacted with open hostility, referencing race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion in their comments and questions. Despite the hostility, Phillips stayed long after the conclusion of each lecture to answer questions, even offering to meet with students later for further discussion. The day after Phillips’ third optional seminar, the Governor’s School fired him without warning or explanation. When he asked why, he was told no explanation would be given, and that there was no appeal or other recourse. Phillips had always received glowing performance reviews without a single negative comment up until the point of the lectures.

In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case, Phillips v. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Thursday. Anthony Biller of Envisage Law, one of more than 4,500 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, served as co-counsel for Phillips.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Hal Frampton
Hal Frampton
Senior Counsel
Hal Frampton serves as senior counsel in the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom.