When you come to Missouri State, you might as well leave your religious and personal values at home...unless, of course, you have the same values as your professors.
That is the charge leveled by a Christian student who is suing her professor and the Board of Governors after she was given a lower grade because she refused to sign a letter to the Missouri Legislature supporting the rights of gays to adopt and have foster children.
The lawsuit was filed this week in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
"Although Miss Brooker entered MSU expecting that college would provide her with the opportunity to engage in rigorous academic discourse and pursue greater understanding of life's deepest questions, what she found was much different," the lawsuit said. "Instead of encouraging debate and discourse, defendants, by policy and practice, stifled and silenced Ms. Brooker's speech and exercise of her religious beliefs because they fell outside the orthodoxy of the School of Social Work and MSU."
Ms. Brooker claims the professor, Frank G. Kauffman, "engaged in indoctrination, not education," and after she stood up to him, he and university officials "trumped up grievance charges in retaliation to her protected speech, failed to give her adequate notice of the charges, forced her to speak in favor of matters that are vile to her religious beliefs, and treated her differently than similarly-situated students."
Ms. Brooker claims Kauffman departed from the curriculum on a regular basis to engage in "leftist diatribes denigrating President Bush and the federal government." He told the students he was a liberal "made statements that social work is a 'liberal' profession." She questioned some of Kauffman's statements in class and was rewarded with a C grade, despite her accomplishments in class, the lawsuit said. "When Ms. Brooker approached Kauffman about the grade, he claimed she received fewer points on participation, which led to her C grade, because she was tardy and exhibited unprofessional behavior in class."
After Ms. Brooker appealed the grade to Kauffman's department head, her grade was increased to a B, though it took more than a year for the change to be made. After that course, Ms. Brooker had to take another required course taught by Kauffman.
As part of the class, the lawsuit said, Kauffman required the students to "engage in a semester-long social work advocacy project." Ms. Brooker initially joined a group doing its project on the homeless, but plans changed after Kaufman brought a guest speaker from a gay organization to class.
"After the speaker, Kauffman suggested that instead of allowing each class group to choose their own project on social work advocacy, the whole class should work on a project advocating homosexual foster homes and adoption."
Kauffman told the students they would learn about homosexual foster homes and adoption, "attend a town hall meeting discussing the issue, write a reaction paper, and then, as a class, write a letter advocating in favor of homosexual adoption to the state of Missouri legislature. Kauffman stated the letter would be sent on MSU letterhead and signed by each student."
Two students, including Ms. Brooker, said they could not sign such a letter because "of her Christian beliefs," according to the lawsuit. Ms. Brooker said she was willing to do the research and attend the town meeting. "She attempted to promote fostering and adopting children generally, without promoting homosexual foster homes and adoption." Ms. Brooker and the other student tried to schedule a meeting with Kauffman to discuss the assignment, but "Kauffman refused to meet with them after class, stating that they would discuss the issue in class. The students said they did not want to discuss the issue in class.
"Several weeks later, Kauffman entered the room and announced that all previous work on the syllabus was being thrown out. He issued an addendum to the syllabus, and he stated that each student had to complete an individual advocacy project and stop work on the group homosexual foster home and adoption advocacy project. One option was for the students to continue working individually on the homosexual foster home an adoption project."
The lawsuit indicates Kauffman thought some students had gone behind his back to sabotage the homosexual advocacy project. "Kauffman angrily left the classroom and did not hold class that day."
Ms. Brooker did her project on Missouri's Head Start program. A month later, on the Friday before finals, Ms. Brooker was told by phone she had "violated the School of Social Work's Standards of Essential Functioning in Social Work Education."
When the meeting was held, Ms. Brooker's parents were not allowed to attend, she was not allowed to tape record it, and she was not allowed to have a non-faculty advocate speak on her behalf. At the meeting on Dec. 16, 2005, she was told the violations were based on three issues: her grade appeals, tardiness, and her involvement in Kauffman's class. During the two and a half hour meeting, most of the talk centered around her "discriminatory conduct" according to the lawsuit.
Kauffman said Ms. Brooker 'resisted his instruction." The committee asked her "a series of personally invasive questions criticizing her Christian beliefs, including 'Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners." Committee members told her that her "Christian beliefs conflicted with the National Association of Social Worker Code of Ethics."
Ms. Brooker said the actions of the faculty committee and Kauffman affected her grades, keeping her from graduating with honors and kept her from being admitted into a master's degree program and violated her First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and free exercise of religion. She is asking for damages, and for the court to keep the university officials from retaliating against her.