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Freedom of Speech Rights Tangled

Here’s an interesting freedom of speech issue again brought to my attention by Breaking Christian News and this time referring me to this LifeSite article. It appears that at a minimum there is confusion about the facts of the case, including the professor’s intentions and when the paper was graded, as comparison of the LifeSite article with this article on the Southern Illinoisian web site.

I am uncertain of where the law would stand on this, and would certainly welcome comment that might clarify it for me. This whole story bothers me because of what it means for education. A professor’s beliefs do have something to do with what they teach and what they are going to find acceptable in a paper. I can imagine, for example, a person who wants to be a social worker, but who believes that the entire course of treatment should consist of prayer and Bible study. Should such a study be granted a degree in social work, essentially the university saying that this person is qualified to perform the functions of a social worker? If it’s a free speech issue, then the validity of the contents would not be relevant. I’m not suggesting that Christine Mize did not provide a reasonably competent, faith-based program, but it seems dangerous to me to apply free speech standards to the grading of college papers.

To take an example from a field with which I’m more familiar, suppose that a biology student wished to write a paper on origins for biology class that claimed that all species appeared fully formed and without genealogy, and proposed to demonstrate this from the Bible. I would have to say that there should be no requirement that such a paper be accepted for biology credit. The student has free speech, and can go home and post his paper on his blog if he wants, but I don’t think the first amendment guarantees, or should guarantee a passing grade. Of course the level of competence required would depend on the level.

There’s a subjective line here between thoroughly incompetent and competent but challenging prevailing attitudes. I must say that while it seems excessive to me for the professor to refuse any inclusion of faith based options in a treatment plan, considering that there is substantial disagreement on the value of such elements, it also seems to me that applying first amendment rights to the acceptance and grading of assignments is questionable, and I wonder what the courts may have ruled on this in the past.

As I have time I will look it up, though it’s likely that brilliant readers will have straightened me out before I get the time to do that.

Brilliant readers, where are you?? 🙂

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  1. I did a quick search on Google News, and found only one side to the story. The closest thing to an objective article was this. Yet even there, the only quote from the professor is the word “bizarre.” Bizarre, indeed. I’m not sure what to think.

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