On the heels of UNC-Wilmington Professor Mike Adams earning a victory in court after he was discriminated against because of his conservative beliefs comes another court win for free speech, this time for a paramedics instructor at Antelope Valley College who was charged with being insensitive to Wiccan beliefs.
Veteran paramedic and tenured instructor Lance Hodge settled his lawsuit against the college after a recent ruling in the educator’s favor prompted administrators to think twice about a jury trial, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education announced Monday.
Here’s the backstory, according to FIRE:
Hodge has taught courses in Emergency Medical Technology at AVC for over two decades. In an attempt to prepare students for the challenges that await beyond the classroom, Hodge’s lectures include discussions of his experiences from the more than 15,000 emergency calls he has responded to in his 30-year career.
In an April 2010 class attended by Dean of Health Sciences Karen Cowell, Hodge advised students they might encounter “witch stuff” in the field. Hodge described “weird” cultural practices that he had responded to as an EMT, including the placing of heated coins on an individual’s body and the ingestion of a woman’s placenta after childbirth.
Cowell characterized these remarks as “inappropriate and disrespectful to the cultural beliefs of patients” and determined that his “sensitivity to diversity” required “improvement.” AVC required Hodge to write a paper on “discrimination” and to prepare a lesson plan for “a one-hour class on cultural diversity.”
Hodge’s 27-page paper was accepted, but his lesson plan, titled “Political correctness vs. the real world: The EMT and professionalism in the face of offensive language or behavior and our understanding of stereotyping and prejudice,” was rejected. Shane Turner, AVC’s Vice President of Human Resources, informed Hodge that he would face “disciplinary action” if he delivered the lesson plan.
Fast forward to today, and the college settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay half his legal fees and allowing him to remain a tenured faculty member, FIRE reports.
The decision came after a February court ruling in which U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez declared that Hodge’s “interest in training future EMTs to perform safely and effectively when responding to emergency calls in the community … override[s] [the college’s) interest in regulating his speech.”
“It should be very clear by now that administrators who attempt to muzzle the speech of instructors will not be tolerated by the courts,” Hodge said in a statement. “Cases like this will make it more costly in the future for institutions who are slow learners when it comes to the First Amendment.”
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