Another Emily Brooker?

April 11, 2008

In 2006 and 2007, FIRE publicized the case of Emily Brooker, who sued Missouri State University (MSU) after she was charged with violating MSU’s “Standards of Essential Functioning” for refusing to lobby the Missouri legislature on behalf of homosexual adoption. MSU settled the lawsuit, and Brooker came out a clear winner. Later, an independent report blasted MSU’s School of Social Work for violations of its own stated ethic of respect: “‘[B]ullying’ was used by both students and faculty to characterize specific faculty. It appears that faculty have no history of intellectual discussion/debate. Rather, differing opinions are taken personally and often result in inappropriate discourse… There is an atmosphere where the Code of Ethics is used in order to coerce students into certain belief systems regarding social work practice and the social work profession.” The aftermath included the introduction of the highly controversial bill nicknamed the “Emily Brooker Higher Education Sunshine Act” in the Missouri House.

FIRE, with the National Association of Scholars (NAS), has continued to be involved in efforts to protect the right of conscience of students who face political litmus tests at their schools.

And today, the NAS draws attention to the case of David Code, a 42-year-old Episcopal minister, who may well be another Emily Brooker. In a December 9, 2007, amended complaint to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Code basically alleges that he was drummed out of Penn State’s Counseling Psychology doctoral program because of religious harassment. Penn State denies the allegations in its formal answer, and the case is complicated. But, having read through the documentation myself, I agree with the NAS’s assessment that the case deserves a thorough hearing. I find it entirely plausible that, for instance, some members of the Counseling Psychology faculty were so biased against Christian ministers becoming psychologists that they would make it as hard as possible for Code to make it through the program. We’ve seen this kind of thing before. One professor even called on Code to take down his website.

According to Code, he was mistreated so severely that he needed to take a leave of absence but financially could not because of the implications of withdrawing during that term. As a result, he stayed enrolled but did not go to class, failed his courses, and was expelled by faculty vote. Why would an accomplished minister and student with about an A average suddenly abandon his education? This is well worth the investigation by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and FIRE will be following the case.

Schools:  Missouri State University

Cases:  Missouri State University: Political Litmus Test in School of Social Work