At What Point is Intolerance a Fireable Offense?

Inside Higher Ed has the story of Bert Chapman, a librarian at Purdue University who also happens to be a stridently anti-gay blogger at Townhall.com. Among other lovely little nuggets, he has said, raging against what he sees as the economic impact of “morally aberrant sexual behavior.”

Some at Purdue want him fired. My first inclination was to disagree; if he is blogging on a non-Purdue website during non-work hours, surely this falls under protected speech, right?

A letter to the editor which ran in Purdue’s Exponent student newspaper (and which the Inside Higher Ed story quotes) makes a strong case otherwise:

That’s right. I’ll call for his job. As a student, as a lesbian, as a human being, I believe with every fiber of my being that Purdue University in no way should affiliate itself with the hateful, bigoted opinions of Professor Chapman. It would serve Professor Chapman well to know that there are quite a few “sexually deviant” students on this campus and they just happen to pay his salary… Imagine that Professor Chapman’s blog had been titled, “An Economic Case Against Interracial Marriage” or “An Economic Case Against the Disabled.” How would the Purdue administration react if they knew a professor was convinced racial segregation should still be in place or that the disabled should just stay home because building a ramp to a library would cost too much money?”

In other words, no one is denying that Chapman has the right to say whatever bigoted thing he wants. But, as a practical matter, there’s no way someone in his position who had railed against minorities rather than gays would be able to keep his job; the university would be forced to find a way to oust him. It’s worth asking why things should be any different for bigoted anti-homosexual speech.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.