A California state court has sided with a community college sociology professor fired for exposing his students to conservative perspectives on marriage, gender roles, and sexual orientation.
In 2017, Moreno Valley College dismissed Eric Thompson, who had taught at the school near Riverside, Calif., since 2005, for conducting “dangerous” and “immoral” discussions with students. He regularly challenged students in his sociology courses to defend their positions on topics like marriage, gender roles, and sexual orientation, and introduced his students to multiple views on the origin of same-sex attraction.
Thompson showed his students a video called Understanding Same-Sex Attraction and sent it to a faculty email list. The documentary, produced by Family Watch International, countered the prevailing view that biology, not environment, causes same-sex attraction. Thompson said that as a Christian he agreed with the video, but he was not trying to foist his views on the students. He just wanted to share another point-of-view with them.
“It was eye-opening, another side of the story I had never seen before, and I was really excited about it,” Thompson told me. “After I showed the video, that’s when the trouble began. … That’s when I had a bull’s-eye target on my back.”
One homosexual colleague filed an administrative complaint alleging harassment over what Thompson termed “amicable conversations,” and the college required Thompson to attend sensitivity training. Then, after a student complained of being victimized by a class discussion of the Supreme Court’s Obergerfell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, the school’s Diversity Committee demanded that Thompson stop showing the video. He received a notice of professional misconduct.
In a final complaint, a student alleged she was given a D grade because she was a lesbian. Despite an investigation failing to find that Thompson violated any school policies, in October 2017 he was summoned to the college president’s office and told to surrender his keys and gather personal effects from his office. Security guards escorted him off the campus. Thompson was allowed one year of paid leave, but since then, the husband and father of nine has worked as a handyman to support his family.
Despite multiple complaints, both an arbitrator and finally a judge concluded last month that the college had no basis for firing Thompson. “Reaching a determination as to what is acceptable academic speech can well be subtle and ‘difficult,’” the arbitrator wrote, but academic speech should not be prohibited “simply because society finds it offensive or disagreeable.”
The court’s vindication of Thompson means he can return to teaching, but attorneys for the school said they may appeal the ruling and seek a stay of the order. Michael Peffer, an attorney with the nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute who represented Thompson during the two-week arbitration proceedings and at trial, told me that attorneys for the college believe Thompson created a hostile classroom environment. “What they seem to mean is that just the fact that he talks about his family being a traditional marriage with a stay-at-home mom is offensive,” Peffer said.
Academic bullying has targeted other Christian professors across the country. At the University of Louisville in Kentucky, officials demoted and ultimately fired professor Allan M. Josephson, longtime chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology, because of his views on the treatment of gender dysphoria in youth. Faculty members denounced him for his critique of new treatments for the condition such as puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Shawnee State University disciplined philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether because he insisted on using the courtesy title that corresponded to a transgender student’s biological sex.
Thompson remains undaunted by the attacks on him. “This battle has been growth-inducing, as it has made me have to trust the Lord on a number of levels,” he said, adding, “In some ways it has been good to go through this.”