Two important cases are currently making their way through the Kentucky legal system, and they share a central question: can everyday Americans lose their jobs, their businesses, and their livelihoods if they voice an opinion different from current LGBT ideological orthodoxy?
Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments for the Lexington Human Rights Commission’s case against Blaine Adamson, a Christian small business owner who creates t-shirts at his print shop called Hands On Originals. When an LGBT group requested that he create shirts for their Pride Festival, he referred them to a different print shop because the group’s message conflicted with his Christian faith.
After winning in court twice, the government is appealing the case, asking the Kentucky Supreme Court to force business owners like Adamson to use their talents to promote messages and events that violate their consciences.
Even more egregious, however, is the next related case set to make its way through the Kentucky courts. Dr. Allan Josephson, an esteemed professor of psychiatry, is on trial for questioning the dangerous medical treatment of children with gender confusion. In the fall of 2017, the well-liked University of Louisville professor spoke in his personal capacity on a panel at the conservative Heritage Foundation, sharing his expertise on child psychiatry and gender identity conflicts. Immediately after, he began to experience hostility from fellow faculty. In a matter of weeks, the university demoted him from his leadership position directing the child and adolescent psychiatry division. And within a year they terminated his employment. All of this came after nearly 15 years of successful work turning the university’s failing Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology into a renowned program.
The media has largely portrayed the university’s actions as justified, claiming that Dr. Josephson was fired for “transphobic” comments. The truth, however, is the exact opposite. “The reason I was demoted, harassed, and later terminated,” he says, “was that I was exploring how best to care for people with gender dysphoria — precisely because I care deeply for them and do not want to see them harmed in any way.”
Thankfully, like Adamson, this particular victim of the “tolerant Left” isn’t going quietly. In March of this year, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Louisville arguing its decision violated Dr. Josephson’s First Amendment right to free speech. And as Josephson v. Bendapudi proceeds in U.S. District Court, Dr. Josephson is speaking out in order to prevent others from being intimidated into silence.
Recently, Kentucky lawmakers have also acted in an attempt to address these threats to free speech. In March, shortly after Dr. Josephson’s firing, Governor Matt Bevin signed the Campus Free Speech Act into law. While the legislation primarily focuses on many of the ways that universities typically restrict student speech, it also directs universities to adopt policies protecting faculty speech as well.
Yet the very fact that the University of Louisville is still defending its actions shows how entrenched this anti-free speech mentality has become in academia and beyond. For example, the Knight Foundation’s Free Expression on College Campuses study showed that “over half of students think it is always or sometimes acceptable to shout down speakers to prevent them from talking.” And a 2017 Brookings Institution study showed that “19% of students think it is acceptable to use violence to silence views they do not like.”
Let that sink in: 19 percent of students coming out of our universities — our future co-workers, employees, bosses, neighbors, teachers, and elected leaders — think that it is okay to use violence to shut you up if they don’t like your opinion.
The cases of Blaine Adamson and Dr. Allan Josephson are important beyond the individual issues at play in each — as critical as those are. These cases also illustrate we are all at risk of losing the freedom to be right and the freedom to be wrong; to challenge others’ ideas and to let others challenge our own. It should be a cause for great concern that a growing number of our future generation finds it acceptable to shut down the expression of uncomfortable beliefs and that our leading institutions are only encouraging this behavior.
Dr. Josephson has said he knows there are a lot of people who agree with him, but intimidation and fear of bullying can keep them quiet. Since the Heritage Foundation event, he’s had many calls from parents of children experiencing gender dysphoria.
“Parents play a vital, indispensable role in raising and training their children in all areas of life,” he says, “including this one. And this is a topic that we should be able to discuss in an academic setting without risking our careers. That is why what has happened to me is so wrong. Public universities have no business demoting people simply because they hold different views than their colleagues or the administration. Speaking with conservative groups — or holding differing views about how to treat patients — should not disqualify anyone from academic service.”
Let’s hope the Kentucky courts recognize these concerns. The freedom of speech which Americans have long taken for granted is hanging in the balance. These cases impact us all.
Anna Anderson is Director of Family Policy for American Principles Project, a conservative nonprofit dedicated to putting human dignity at the heart of public policy.