College: Gay rights assignment did not discriminate against religious beliefs


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — A Tennessee college professor did not infringe on students’ First Amendment rights or discriminate against religious beliefs when she asked students to wear gay pride ribbons as part of an assignment, an in-house investigation concludes.

The investigation clears stemmed from an assignment earlier this year by Dr. Linda Brunton, a psychology professor at Columbia State Community College, in which students were asked to wear a rainbow ribbon and make statements in support of gay rights.

Students were then instructed to write a paper detailing any discrimination they faced for their perceived support or orientation.

The college determined that Brunton asked, but did not require, students to wear rainbow ribbons, that students’ First Amendment rights were not violated, and there was no evidence of discrimination on religious grounds.

The college also found that students who objected to the assignment were given options.

The investigation was undertaken after the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a complaint letter to Columbia State President Janet Smith.

Travis Christopher Barham, an attorney for ADF, alleged that Brunton’s assignment violated decades of “clearly established law by compelling students to support in public views they either do not wish to advocate or find abhorrent.”

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Randy Elston, director of the Columbia State Human Resources Department, noted, that the issue of homosexuality is part of the course content and appears in several textbook chapters, and were within the bounds of academic freedom.

Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the assignment is commonly used in psychology classes, and is “designed to help students gain empathy” for discrimination encountered by the LGBT community.

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