Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

A free speech storm over Harvey

Free Speech | A student group laments the chilling effect a professor’s firing could have on campus expression
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 9/05/17, 03:26 pm

A Florida sociology professor who lost his job last week over a hateful tweet about Harvey victims has a fledgling free-speech organization questioning the “chilling effect” harsh penalties can have on professors and students, on and off campus. 

Defending people’s right to speak without defending what they say is a growing problem, said Matthew Foldi, president and founder of Students for Free Expression, adding that living within the tension of that paradigm is essential to ensure free expression for all, even the most odious.

As the record-setting tropical storm dumped almost 2 feet of water on Houston and surrounding communities on Aug. 27, Ken Storey, a visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa, took to Twitter and stirred up a political storm. “I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them,” he tweeted from his personal account.

That tweet got him fired.

“It is particularly concerning to see chilling effects in the realm of education, where professors will shy away from teaching certain subjects … and students feel pressured out of having certain beliefs,” Foldi told me.

Storey deleted the tweet but not before others called him out for his indefensible comment. Two days later, university administrators responded.

“We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused,” administrators said in a statement posted on the school’s website. “Storey has been relieved of his duties at UT, and his classes will be covered by other sociology faculty.”

Social media puts our private lives on public display, and under the scrutiny of our employers, Foldi said. The repercussions of Storey’s comments may have been different had he expressed them in the classroom. But either circumstance should have encouraged more dialogue not less, Foldi said, pointing out that while the professor has the right to make “his truly terrible statement,” his ideological opponents have that same right.

Students for Free Expression grew out of a conference hosted in May at the University of Chicago that was held after riots on several college campuses shut down speeches by invited guests. The group now has representatives on more than 30 U.S. college campuses and at one school in Mexico.

©iStockPhoto.com/fallbrook ©iStockPhoto.com/fallbrook A beach at Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands.

SPLC and the deep, deep south

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has stashed millions of dollars in foreign accounts in the Cayman Islands, according to a report published Aug. 31 by The Washington Free Beacon. Although not illegal, shifting $5.6 million to off-shore accounts raises questions about what it intends to do with the money. 

The report cited 2014 and 2015 tax records (the latest available) to reveal the movement of funds. According to 2014 tax records, the SPLC made three separate cash transfers totaling $1,219,581 to incorporated entities in the Cayman Islands. In 2015, the non-profit organization moved $4.4 million in two different transfers on March 1. The organization has earned relatively high marks from the watchdog group Charity Navigator, but not as high as one of the groups listed on the SPLC’s “hate map.”

The SPLC touts itself as dedicated “to fighting hate and bigotry and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society” and raked in $58,176,499 in donations in 2015 under that guise. That brought the non-profit organization’s total assets to $328,395,092, according to its 990 federal tax form. The group earned an overall score of 86 out of 100 and three out of four stars from Charity Navigator.

Often criticized for its emphasis on fundraising, the SPLC spends almost one-quarter of its budget—22.1 percent—raising money. It spends another 13.2 percent on administrative costs. 

Compare that to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a civil liberties group that has earned the SPLC hate group label for its defense of Biblical marriage and human sexuality. Charity Navigator gave ADF an overall rating of four out of four stars and a score of 90 out of 100.

ADF raised $46,077,714 in contributions in 2015 and had total assets of $48,310,833 as of June 2015.

Since last month’s violent protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., the SPLC has collected millions in donations from high-profile personalities from the entertainment and business worlds, including $1 million each from celebrities George and Amal Clooney and Apple CEO Tim Cook. The SPLC said the Clooney donation will be used “to increase the capacity of the SPLC to combat hate groups in the United States.” —B.P.

Facebook Facebook Calvary Chapel Chino Hills

California churches must pay for abortion coverage

Three California churches suffered a setback last week in their four-year legal battle with the state’s health agency over a mandate requiring churches to provide insurance coverage for abortions. The Aug. 31 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted the state’s plea to dismiss the case on technical grounds but gave the churches 21 days to resubmit an amended complaint.

Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch sued the California Department of Managed Health Care in 2014 after the agency ordered insurers to amend their policies to remove any limits for abortion coverage. The lawsuit, Foothill Church v. Rouillard, alleges the state mandate provided no exception for religious objections and violated federal conscience protections.

The mandate does allow churches to opt out of insurance coverage for contraceptives but not abortions. 

“California has no right to dictate what pastors or churches believe on moral and cultural issues,” said Jeremiah Galus, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the churches. “Yet, with the stroke of a pen—and without consulting the public—the state mandated that churches must pay for the taking of innocent human life. Because the court’s decision ignores the longstanding freedom of faith communities to act consistently with their religious mission, we are consulting with our clients about next steps.” —B.P.

An unlikely friend of the Ten Commandments

A faith-based group has filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to keep a Ten Commandments monument in Bloomfield, N.M., on display. Two residents sued the city, arguing the monument’s presence is an affront to atheists and religious minorities. The Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (CIRF) begs to differ.

The brief, filed Aug. 10, asks the high court to hear Felix v. City of Bloomfield and strike down the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ use of the “Lemon Test.” The Muslim group also seeks an end to the “offended observer” doctrine. Groups have used both legal precedents to expunge religious content from the public square, instead of establishing the neutral expression of various religions in a pluralistic society. As a representative of a religious minority, CIRF argues that “the rights of minority religious believers are best protected when the government encourages diverse religious expression instead of censoring religious expression associated with majority religions.” —B.P.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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