Philosophy Professor, Punished for Disclosing Religious Beliefs, Sues College

By June 30, 2004

CLEVELAND, OH,—A philosophy professor who was punished for disclosing his religious viewpoint to students has filed suit against Lakeland Community College in Ohio. Professor James Tuttle was disciplined by the administration and later stripped of his classes for making statements on his syllabi and in class lectures that referenced his religious faith and how it shaped his personal philosophy. Dr. Tuttle is represented by Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP. The public campaign to defend Dr. Tuttle’s rights has been coordinated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which first brought Dr. Tuttle’s case to national attention earlier this year.

“Last fall, FIRE informed Lakeland’s administration that punishing a philosophy instructor for revealing his personal religious philosophy to his class was not only unconstitutional but an affront to both academic freedom and common sense,” said David French, FIRE’s President. “Does the college ask feminist professors to disguise their feminism or atheist professors to hide their atheism?”

The complaint, filed on June 30, 2004 in federal court in Cleveland, accuses Lakeland Community College (a public institution), Dean James L. Brown, and President Morris W. Beverage, Jr. of violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Ohio law on religious discrimination. It also accuses the college of violating Dr. Tuttle’s rights to due process and equal protection. The college severely curtailed Dr. Tuttle’s class schedule, stripped him of his seniority, and assigned him to classes the administration knew he did not want to teach, all in retaliation for disclosing his religious beliefs. The suit also asks for a preliminary injunction ordering Lakeland to reinstate Dr. Tuttle and to stop prohibiting Dr. Tuttle from mentioning his religiously-based philosophical beliefs in his philosophy classes. The suit was filed by FIRE affiliated attorneys Jeffrey A. Brauer, Robert J. Fogarty, and Sonja C. Rice of Hahn Loeser & Parks. Read the complaint below. [1.7 MB PDF]

Dr. Tuttle’s ordeal began in March 2003, when a student complained that Dr. Tuttle mentioned his Catholic beliefs too often for the student’s taste. The student recommended that Dr. Tuttle be given “counseling for tolerance.” Prior to this complaint, Dr. Tuttle had, in fact, included a brief note in the syllabi of two of his classes informing students that he was “a committed Catholic Christian philosopher and theologian.” The statement also encouraged any students who felt uncomfortable with Dr. Tuttle’s views or methods to feel free to talk to him about it outside of class.

“Dr. Tuttle made sure his students knew about his philosophical perspective even before they started his class, while, at the same time, making it clear that he wanted to engage every student. Such a policy of honesty and full disclosure should be encouraged, not punished,” commented FIRE’s French.

Yet on April 21, 2003, Dr. Tuttle received a letter from his supervisor, Dean James L. Brown of the Arts and Humanities Division at Lakeland, saying that he was “more bothered by [Tuttle's] disclaimer than by anything I read in [the student]‘s complaint.” Dean Brown went on to suggest that Dr. Tuttle “would be happier in a sectarian classroom.” Lakeland’s first punishment of Dr. Tuttle was a reduction in class load (and therefore salary) to one class for the Fall 2003 semester.

In November 2003, Dr. Tuttle was informed that he was being given the last choice of classes—three identical sections of the one course that administrators knew he did not wish to teach—despite the fact that Lakeland’s traditional seniority system should have given him preference over six other instructors. FIRE wrote to Lakeland in December 2003, pointing out that Lakeland’s demand that Dr. Tuttle avoid commenting on his own religious philosophy ignored the pervasive historic, intellectual, and cultural ties between the worlds of religion and philosophy, and asking the college not to use any contrivance to punish him. The college failed to respond. Dr. Tuttle, refusing to accept the loss of his seniority, declined to accept Lakeland’s shameful offer.

In February 2004, FIRE began its public advocacy on behalf of Dr. Tuttle’s rights. Read FIRE’s original press release here. Since then, numerous groups and individuals have joined FIRE condemning Lakeland’s actions, including the Ohio Association of Scholars, the Catholic League, and dozens of Tuttle’s former students. In May 2004, FIRE wrote Lakeland again to assure the college that the issue would not simply go away, but Lakeland still made no attempt to explain its actions.

The lawsuit accuses Lakeland of adopting a policy “under which Dr. Tuttle cannot discuss his Catholic philosophy, which is shared by over 60 million Americans, in a discussion-based class focused on philosophy,” despite the fact that many important philosophical movements are religiously based. Since faculty members often disclose their political, ideological or philosophical beliefs without being punished, the suit points out that Lakeland has “arbitrarily singled out faculty’s speech on the topic of religion.” The complaint also warns of the wider ramifications of allowing Lakeland’s actions to go unchallenged, noting that “Academic freedom is a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.”

“Lakeland’s decision to silence an instructor with dissenting views must not be allowed to stand. Nothing less than the soul of post-secondary education is at stake,” said Tuttle’s attorney, Jeffrey A. Brauer of Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP.

Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, concluded, “The Supreme Court has long held that public institutions cannot discriminate against speech merely because it happens to be religious. We are confident that the courts will once again uphold this basic principle of academic freedom and free speech.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. Please visit www.thefire.org to read more about FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America.

CONTACT:

David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david.french@thefire.org

Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@thefire.org

Jeffrey A. Brauer, Partner, Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP: 216-274-2371; jabrauer@hahnlaw.com

Morris W. Beverage, President, Lakeland Community College: 440-525-7000; mbeverage@lakelandcc.edu

James L. Brown, Dean, Arts and Sciences Division, Lakeland Community College: 440-525-7091; jbrown@lakelandcc.edu

Schools: Lakeland Community College