Philosophy Professor Punished for Expressing Religious Beliefs

February 5, 2004

KIRTLAND, OH—Lakeland Community College near Cleveland, Ohio, has removed a professor of moral philosophy from his classes as punishment for refusing to hide his religious identity from students. The college threatened Dr. James Tuttle, who espouses traditional Catholic beliefs, with dismissal because he made statements on his syllabi and in class that disclosed his religious faith and how that shaped his personal philosophy.

"Asking a philosophy professor to divorce his deepest philosophic views from his teaching is both outrageous and absurd," said Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). "To say that a philosophy professor cannot discuss religious ideas is to render him incapable of meaningful discussion of some of the greatest minds in the history of his field. Feminists are not forced to veil their feminism, and Catholic philosophers should be free to be Catholic philosophers."

Dr. Tuttle’s problems began in March 2003 when he received a copy of a student complaint forwarded to him by Dean James L. Brown of the Arts and Humanities Division at Lakeland. The student complained that Dr. Tuttle mentioned his Catholic beliefs too often for the student’s taste and suggested that he be given "counseling for tolerance."

In an effort to address this issue, Dr. Tuttle decided to add "disclaimers" to the syllabi of two of his classes informing students that the professor was "a committed Catholic Christian philosopher and theologian," so that students would know in advance about his perspective. The statement also encouraged any students who felt uncomfortable with Dr. Tuttle’s views or methods to feel free to talk to him outside of class.

On April 21, 2003, Dr. Tuttle received a letter from Dean Brown 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." In punishing Dr. Tuttle for including the disclaimer, Dean Brown stated that he would reduce Dr. Tuttle’s course load for the next semester to only one class (thereby reducing his pay) and would subject him to classroom monitoring by a fellow professor before reaching a final decision on whether to actually fire him.

Dr. Tuttle contacted FIRE for help, and in December FIRE wrote to Lakeland Community College President Morris W. Beverage to protest the college’s punishment of Dr. Tuttle. FIRE reminded Lakeland that Dr. Tuttle’s disclosure and discussion of his religious beliefs in a philosophy class were directly relevant to the topic of the class and that "such candor from an instructor should be welcomed rather than condemned."

FIRE also pointed out that Lakeland’s demand that Dr. Tuttle avoid commenting on his own religious beliefs ignores the pervasive historic, intellectual, and cultural ties between the worlds of religion and philosophy. Reminding President Beverage that philosophers including Plato, Lao Tzu, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas espoused theories that regarded religion and philosophy as integrated parts of one whole, FIRE asked, "Which of these thinkers would Dean Brown punish for intellectual honesty at Lakeland Community College?"

Lakeland failed to respond to FIRE’s request that the college cease its unfair persecution of Dr. Tuttle and that it restore him to his full class load. Instead, Dr. Tuttle was informed in December that he was being given the last pick of classes—with a selection of courses 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. Dr. Tuttle refused to accept the loss of his seniority and declined to accept Lakeland’s shameful offer.

FIRE is calling for Lakeland Community College to reinstate Dr. Tuttle as a philosophy instructor and will put information about Dr. Tuttle’s situation in the hands of the media, the public, and local and national advocacy groups. FIRE also appeals to lovers of liberty of all religious and non-religious views to write or call President Beverage to express their opinions about Lakeland’s treatment of Dr. Tuttle. Stay tuned for further developments in this case.

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

CONTACT :

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

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