Letter to the Publisher of Nashville Tennessean

This is in response to the Tennessean article
Columbia State professor's assignment about gay rights sparks protest
Link to Article


June 23, 2013


In the article it states that Professor Brunton declined to comment for this story. She declined to comment because the investigation is still underway.

As for your comment about shining the light on what factually happened, the article both accuses Professor Brunton and vindicates her. The primary issue, according to the article, was an assignment where students were required to wear a rainbow ribbon and make public statements in support of gay rights. It was a psychology assignment meant to gauge reactions they got from other people. But in the article student Jeff Vernon, who attends Collegevue Church of Christ and who took offense to Professor Brunton's support of gay rights, stated he was allowed to opt out of the assignment {which he did} and did not suffer any consequences because he opted out. He also states, and I think this most relevant, "wearing the ribbon was a voluntary, extra-credit assignment". It was a legitimate assignment {your link describes its context http://www.tennessean.com/assets/pdf/DN207223620.pdf}. So where is the crime? The charge by the Alliance Defending Freedom was,

“Dr. Brunton’s assignment violates decades (of) clearly established law by compelling students to support in public views they either do not wish to advocate or find abhorrent.”

If students were allowed to opt out, which Vernon did, how can Brunton be accused of compelling students to advocate "views they either do not wish to advocate or find abhorrent"? Vernon's statement clears Professor Brunton of that charge. Smietana does not offer any other evidence to this charge.

The only other assertions that were not remedied, and apparently not confirmed by Smietana, were charges by Lawyers from the Phoenix-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, accusing Brunton of calling those who oppose gay rights “uneducated bigots.” No one was identified as making that charge other than the ADF. In a related story by WZTV News {http://www.fox17.com/newsroom/top_stories/videos/wztv_update-columbia-state-community-college-professor-hot-water-over-rainbow-coalition-ribbons-sky-arnold-18568.shtml?wap=0Molly } student Molly Gray disputes Vernon's accustation. The complaint by Vernon is how Professor Brunton teaches the class, a college class for young ADULTS where the topic is psychology which is about human behavior.

There appears to be more to the story than Professor Brunton's behavior. In an update by WZTV News:
David Fowler, President of The Family Action Council of Tennessee has pointed towards the Columbia State Community College incident as a reason the Tennessee House of Representatives should join the Senate in passing House Bill 1185 next year.Fowler believes the incident was a "classic case of government-coerced speech," adding "The situation at Columbia State demonstrates the kind of hostility by liberal faculty members in our public colleges that exists towards those who do not share their political and social views."

A press release from The Family Action Council's website reads:
http://factn.org/statement-on-columbia-states-violation-of-first-amendment/

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (June 20, 2013) – David Fowler, President of The Family Action Council of Tennessee, made the following statement in response to an incident at Columbia State Community College and the implications on First Amendment rights:

The recent letter from Alliance Defending Freedom to the President of Columbia State Community College demonstrates the kind of hostility toward First Amendment rights that exists in the counseling-related fields of study in our state’s public colleges. It is also a prime example of why the Tennessee House of Representatives should join the state Senate in passing legislation to protect the constitutional rights of students in our public colleges in counseling-related fields of study.

It is outrageous that the lead faculty member in the Psychology Department at Columbia State Community College forced her students to wear rainbow ribbons outside of the classroom in support of homosexual behavior in order to receive class credit. Worse yet, she also instructed them that, if asked, they were to explain that they were showing support for the homosexual community and its political agenda. It is a classic case of government-coerced speech.

To the state Senate’s credit, it overwhelmingly passed legislation last year that protected the First Amendment rights of students in our public colleges who must fulfill a counseling internship requirement in order to graduate. The bill allowed a student counselor to have a client referred to another counselor if the goal to be achieved by the counseling would force the student counselor to violate his or her strongly held religious beliefs.

The situation at Columbia State demonstrates the kind of hostility by liberal faculty members in our public colleges that exists towards those who do not share their political and social views. It should provide the state House of Representatives all the proof it needs to join the Senate by passing House Bill 1185 next year.

House Bill 1185, sponsored by Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis), is pending before the House Education Subcommittee. The companion bill, Senate Bill 514, was sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and passed the Senate in March by a vote of 22 to 4.



Also contained in the press release were links to The letter from Alliance Defending Freedom is available at: http://www.adfmedia.org/files/CSCCLetter.pdf

The news release from Alliance Defending Freedom is available at: http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/8265
What I see is an attempt to use Professor Brunton as an example of what the ADF terms a "classic case of government-coerced speech" in efforts to support House Bill 1185. Professor Brunton's support of the LGBT community is well known. Both the ADF and The Family Action Council of Tennessee are in support of House Bill 1185 and are pushing for its passage. Both are party to the complaints against Professor Brunton. A party to the accusations is Collegevue Church of Christ, which is across the street from the college, and the church where the primary source of accusations Jeff Vernon attends. When you add all this together you get something that smells to 'high heaven'. Intimidation is nothing new by conservative organizations and this seems to be a classic class.

But there is one more question that is just as bothersome. Was Bob Smietana used as a tool for that effort? Was he a willing participant? Why did he publish the unsupported article {which the Tennessean is complicit}? Is the journalism so bad at the Tennessean they have to publish articles using unsubstantiated evidence {as I stated earlier the article accuses Professor Brunton and vindicates her}? Bob Smietana and the Tennessean have done a grave injustice to a professor who has done much in support of the LGBT community. Her 32 years of service at Columbia State have been exemplary. Her name and reputation has been disparaged. What remedy does she have for these unfounded charges? I ask for a retraction by the Tennessean of the charges in the article as well as a public apology on the front page of the newspaper. The charges made the front page, it is only fair an apology does the same. I await your response hoping it is justified by facts and not just rhetoric.

Jerry Gifford
I am also posting this to my Facebook page.