Free Speech or Hate Speech? University Sued Over Firing for Anti-Gay Article
The firing of a college administrator over her criticism of gay rights has sparked a debate about free speech and whether universities have the right to regulate what employees say outside of their jobs.
Crystal Dixon filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court seeking to be reinstated to her University of Toledo job, which she lost after writing in a newspaper column that gay rights can’t be compared to civil rights because homosexuality is a choice.
"I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are ’civil rights victims,’" Dixon wrote in an online edition of the Toledo Free Press on April 18. "Here’s why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a black woman."
She also wrote: "There are consequences for each of our choices, including those who violate God’s divine order." Two weeks later, Dixon was fired as the school’s associate vice president for human resources. School officials said her views contradicted university policies, according to the lawsuit.
Though Dixon’s attorneys say other school administrators were not punished for expressing their opinions, the public university defends its actions.
"We have asserted from the beginning that Ms. Dixon was in a position of special sensitivity as associate vice president for human resources and this issue is not about freedom of speech, but about her ability to perform that job given her statements," university spokesman Larry Burns said in a statement.
Dixon did not mention in the column that she worked at the university, but she did defend the school’s benefits plans and how they apply to gay employees.
In response to the column, hundreds of people wrote letters calling her views disturbing while others were outraged Dixon was punished for speaking her mind. Conservative talk show hosts and members of her church rallied around Dixon after she was fired.
"It comes down to whether you’re speaking as an employee of the university or as a private citizen," said Brian Rooney, a spokesman for Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is representing Dixon. "If you’re speaking as a private citizen, your speech is protected."
The university would have been within its rights to discipline her if she had stated she was a school administrator, Rooney said. The nonprofit Christian law firm says its mission includes "defending the traditional family and challenging special rights for homosexuals."
"Where is the so-called free expression of ideas and tolerance that universities so adamantly defend?" said Richard Thompson, president of the law center.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs and William Logie, vice president for human resources. Jacobs responded to the column by writing his own piece in the weekly newspaper, saying that "her comments do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo."