Author’s Note: Some of the themes discussed in this column were part of a speech I gave at an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) event in July. The full speech can be viewed by clicking this link.
March 18, 2010 was one of the worst days of my life. That was the day Judge Malcolm Howard threw my lawsuit against UNCW out of court. Three years after filing suit and a full eight years after I started to criticize universities, including my own, for violating the First Amendment I lost a bid to go to trial. I also lost all credibility as a free speech advocate. Or so I thought.
That night, I called my friend Jen Honken and explained to her that all hope was lost and that I would soon have to look for a new job and abandon my work as a free speech advocate. Shortly after that conversation was over, I tried to go to sleep. But I just sat up and stared at the ceiling for eight hours until the alarm rang. I got up and started the next day the way I usually do – by making coffee and reading for about an hour and a half. Right about the time I finished reading, the phone rang. It was one of my ADF attorneys, Joseph Martins.
After telling me how sorry he was that we had lost on the motion for summary judgment, he did something unexpected. He began to tell me that what seemed like defeat, really wasn’t defeat. In fact, he said what had happened the day before was really Providence. I began to think he was losing his mind. In fact, it was good that he wasn’t in the room with me. Had he been there, I would have punched him in the nose. And that would have been bad for two reasons. First, he’s a lawyer. Second, Joe is much bigger than me.
But Joe took the time to explain himself. He said that we would likely appeal to the 4th Circuit and win an important First Amendment precedent. After all, the judge’s ruling was based on an open question in an important Supreme Court case. No circuit had yet ruled on the specific issue in our case. Indeed, we really were in a good position to establish an important legal precedent. So Joe was optimistic. I just wasn’t in the mood for his optimism.