English Professor David Phillips is suing the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for discriminating against him on the basis of his race and religion and for violating his right to free speech.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the complaint on Phillips’ behalf after he was fired by the elite North Carolina Governor’s School, a residential summer program for gifted and talented rising high school seniors.
The suit alleges the Governor’s School had embraced “critical race theory” (CRT), an ideology “that views everyone and everything through the lens of characteristics like race, sex, and religion, labelling people as perpetual oppressors or perpetual victims based on group membership alone.”
As a Christian who believes all people should be treated with respect and that educators and schools should allow a diversity of viewpoints, Phillips opposed the school’s intolerance and discrimination.
Phillips had attended the school in 1995 as a high school senior, taught there since 2013, and was the lead English instructor from 2018 to 2021. He received excellent performance reviews during his tenure.
The lawsuit says students were being taught concepts such as:
- Racism is defined as anything that perpetuates an unequal distribution of privileges, resources, and power between white people and people of color.
- Racism can only be committed by white people.
- Any questioning of critical theory or its concepts by a white person is an expression of “white fragility,” which functions to perpetuate racism.
- People with certain characteristics, such as being white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, and/or Christian, are privileged by virtue of these characteristics alone.
- Students with “privileged” characteristics are encouraged to recognize and confess their privilege to their peers and teachers.
- Gender is not binary but rather exists on a spectrum and is based on a person’s felt identity.
In addition to teaching English courses, Professor Phillips taught optional seminars, including ones where he critiqued those concepts from CRT and discussed “the increasing ideological bias and lack of viewpoint diversity in higher education.”
The Governor’s School “is billed as a learning environment that helps students ‘explore and ask questions’ and develop ‘their own perspectives with new insights.’” But instead of allowing questions or diverse viewpoints, the school grew more deeply entrenched in CRT dogma, creating an unwelcoming, hostile environment to Phillips and to students.
The complaint gives examples of overt animosity and discrimination, such as:
- Faculty reviewers expressly favored applicants because of the applicant’s race, sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity despite those applicants not having the level of academic records normally required for admission.
- The reviewers also expressed bias against overtly Christian students and students expressing conservative viewpoints.
- Beginning in 2015, Dr. Phillips began to hear from students with “privileged” characteristics about being discriminated against, harassed, and silenced.
- Students with “privileged” characteristics and/or conservative views were also told their views were categorically wrong and unwelcome in the Governor’s School community.
The suit explains that the Governor’s School also held events sponsored by the staff or administration, including:
- Weekly events designed solely for people of color.
- Weekly events designed solely for members of the LGBTQ+ community and “strong allies.”
- A seminar on drag culture.
- An introduction to Marxist theory.
- A seminar entitled, “Dear White People … Get Out” on cultural appropriation.
For several years, Professor Phillips raised concerns about the school’s “radical racist ideology,” but the school “fostered and encouraged an environment where mistreating students with ‘privileged’ characteristics and unwelcome views was practiced and accepted.”
He was fired the day after giving his optional seminar on bias in higher education, with no explanation from DPI staff. Before then, he’d never been disciplined or notified about any complaints regarding his teaching.
The lawsuit says the school did not follow DPI policies and procedures when it fired Phillips. When he requested his employment records, the department refused to provide all of them, falsely claiming, “There are no other files related to your temporary employment with us.”
The complaint alleges that DPI violated the North Carolina Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech. It says the school subjected him to a hostile work environment based on his race and religion, and the suit explains that the hostility and the firing were based on “multiple characteristics” of Phillips as a “white male evangelical Christian.”
ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton commented on the case, saying:
There is no lawful explanation for the way North Carolina public school officials treated Dr. Phillips. He was beloved, respected, and regarded by both students and faculty as an advocate for students who felt that their voices weren’t being heard and their perspectives weren’t welcomed at the Governor’s School. By firing him, the Governor’s School violated his constitutional right to free speech and unlawfully retaliated against him for deviating from the Governor’s School’s ideological orthodoxy.
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Photo from ADF Media Page.