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UNC professor denied promotion over opinion columns gains significant support

First Amendment protected rights of UNC-Wilmington professor championed by AAUP, FIRE after ADF files first brief in appeal

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Alliance Defense Fund has received the support of three significant organizations in its defense of a criminology professor whose opinion columns were determined by a judge to be unprotected by the First Amendment simply because he made reference to them in a promotion application.

The American Association of University Professors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in support of Dr. Mike Adams’ appeal in a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. The suit contends the university denied Adams a promotion because his nationally syndicated opinion columns espoused religious and political views out of step with the opinions of university officials.

“Christian professors should not be discriminated against because of their beliefs. Disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s religious and political views is no grounds for refusing him promotion,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “Opinion columns are some of the clearest examples of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Mentioning them on a promotion application does not change that, and it’s encouraging that three organizations which understand this are supporting Dr. Adams in our appeal.”

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. However, intrusive investigations, baseless accusations, and the denial of promotion to full professor followed his conversion to Christianity in 2000, even though his scholarly output surpassed that of almost all of his colleagues.

ADF attorneys representing Adams sued UNCW in April 2007, arguing that he was harassed and denied a promotion because his Christian beliefs did not coincide with the political and philosophical stance of his superiors. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division, denied the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in 2008 but ruled against Adams in March. ADF attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and filed their opening brief in Adams v. The Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington on June 28.

“The First Amendment protects the ability of faculty to speak freely,” added French. “If allowed to stand, this decision could have huge ramifications for the free speech rights of university professors, who are often required to author articles to further their careers.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.