Extra credit

Psychology Professor Who Explored Homophobia With Students Cleared Of First Amendment Violation

Dr. Linda Brunton, a psychology professor at Columbia State Community College in Tennessee, came under fire earlier this year over an extra credit assignment she offered in her General Psychology 1030 class.

The assignment, which was voluntary, asked students to wear rainbow ribbons and make statements in support of gay rights, then write a paper detailing any discrimination they faced for their perceived support or orientation.

Sounds like an interesting assignment, right?

Well, in June, the Alliance Defending Freedom sent the college’s President Janet Smith a letter stating that Brunton had violated students’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to “express support for the homosexual community.”

The letter alleged that multiple students complained to the organization about the extra credit assignment, which took place during the spring 2012 semester. The students claimed Brunton “brushed off” their concerns when they said religious convictions prohibited them from showing support for “unnatural and immoral” homosexual behavior, and that Brunton “gave them grades of zero” on their papers as a result.

Alliance Defending Freedom identifies itself as “a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” This is the same organization who once employed Lisa Biron, the lawyer found guilty of producing child porn. It is also the organization currently working with Patricia King of Extreme Prophetic Ministries on criminalizing sodomy in Belize.

Columbia State Community College conducted an internal investigation into the matter. The investigation was conducted by Randy Elston, director of the Columbia State Human Resources Department, whose findings were submitted to the college in a document dated August 26.

Elston concluded that there was no evidence to support claims Brunton had “brushed off” students’ religious concerns, and that only four of the 43 students who participated in the extra credit assignment received a grade of zero. Two of the four “who allegedly received a zero because of their religious beliefs” turned in assignments that they knew were not written according to instructions. Furthermore, one of those two still received an “A” in the class, despite getting a zero on that particular paper.

On Thursday, the school announced they did not believe Brunton had infringed upon students’ rights, releasing a statement that read:

A thorough investigation of the allegations of first amendment issues and discrimination by Dr. Brunton in regard to her psychology assignment has been completed. The college is satisfied with the investigation which yielded that the ribbon assignment was not mandatory, that the student’s first amendment rights were not infringed, and that there was no evidence of discrimination based on religious beliefs. Issues of clarity of the assignment, expectation, and advocacy of subject matter that is controversial but appropriate for the course content were identified as areas of consideration in lesson plan development and delivery.

Brunton is expected to return to campus for the fall 2013 semester, and is scheduled to teach five classes.

The moral of the story: The Alliance Defending Freedom, once again, only succeeded in making themselves look like asses whilst wasting everyone’s time.