COLUMBIA– A group of students from a state community college in Tennessee are seeking legal help after one of their professors required them to wear rainbow ribbons during class in support of homosexuality.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) issued a press release this week regarding the matter, describing how a psychology professor at Columbia State Community College (CSCC) recently violated her students’ First Amendment rights. The ADF is a legal advocacy group dedicated to protecting religious freedom, and explained in the release that a letter had been sent to CSCC regarding the issue.
“This spring,” the letter reads, “Dr. Linda Brunton, the lead faculty member in CSCC’s Psychology Department, required her General Psychology students to wear Rainbow Coalition ribbons for at least a day and to express support for the homosexual community while doing so. Thus, she blatantly violated principles at the very ‘heart of the First Amendment.’”
The letter further explains how Dr. Brunton only awarded class credit to those who wore the rainbow ribbons, and if students objected to the assignment, she dismissively accused them of “throwing Bible verses” at her. In the letter to CSCC, the ADF described the psychology class as “a semester-long clinic on the demands of the homosexual movement.”
According to Dr. Brunton’s online academic profile, she is a member of several professional organizations, including the “Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network.” Her cited “professional interests” are “AIDS Awareness and Education” and “Diversity Issues.”
During her time as a professor, Dr. Brunton has generated mixed reactions from psychology class students, as evidenced by her page on RateMyProfessors.com. On the one hand, some students described her as “excellent,” “super cool,” “enthusiastic and fun,” and “really interesting.” However, other students said she was “extremely hateful” and “[v]ery mean … if she finds out your [sic] a Christian.”
“[I]f you are a Conservative or a Christian, beware,” one student commented. “She’s very out about her views.”
Another student reported that Dr. Brunton “spent the semester attempting to humiliate this one lady—a [C]hristian, married, mother, nursing major—all horrible things to Brunton.”
In a syllabus from Dr. Brunton’s 2012 psychology class, there is no mention of any homosexual-friendly assignments. However, a brief paragraph describes the professor’s “civil discourse” policies.
“The practice of open mindedness in this class,” the syllabus states, “requires that we communicate with each other in such a way that no one feels intimidated about expressing opinions. I am asking you, the students of this class, to go beyond mere tolerance to a respect for, and even encouragement of, the expression of divergent points of view.”
In a statement obtained by Fox News, a spokesperson for CSCC said the controversial assignment situation is currently under ongoing investigation and that school officials are following procedures “congruent with Board policy and applicable laws.”
Since the controversy over Dr. Brunton’s class surfaced, some people have treated the incident coolly, saying it isn’t that big of a deal. Chris Sanders, a friend of Dr. Brunton, told The Tennessean that wearing the rainbow ribbons was nothing more than a voluntary assignment to improve students’ understanding of sexual diversity.
“Students were allowed to opt out, and some did,” he claimed. “And students were told that if they felt uncomfortable, they could take off the ribbons.”
Ivan Jones, a current student at CSCC, echoed similar sentiments to WTVF in Nashville, saying the ribbon-wearing incident was “just an assignment.”
“I don’t really see why it would be much of a problem if it’s an assignment,” he commented. “I mean, people should be more open-minded. We’re in college anyway.”
However, a former CSCC student described a much different scene to The Daily Herald on Wednesday, recounting how she once tried to opt out of a similar assignment by writing a letter to Dr. Brunton. But, according to the student, Dr. Brunton “scribbled all over my paper and gave me a zero.”
Ultimately, says ADF’s Travis Barham, the assignment was a infringement on the students’ Constitutional rights.
“Colleges should be the marketplace of ideas,” he noted in a statement, “not environments where professors manipulate students into advancing particular political agendas. The Constitution does not allow any government official to force another person to adopt or advocate a particular moral or political viewpoint. But this professor did just that with this assignment, and thus clearly violated freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”