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The Constitution protects academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all and not merely to the teachers concerned. Academic freedom is a special concern of the First Amendment and the First Amendment does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. After all, the classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas. And when the state stifles a professor's viewpoint on a matter of public import, much more than the professor's rights are at stake. The nation's future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the robust exchange of ideas, not through the authoritative compulsion of orthodox speech. To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in colleges and universities would imperil the future of the Nation.
Traditionally, American universities have been beacons of intellectual diversity and academic freedom. They have prided themselves on being forums where controversial ideas are discussed and debated. And they have tried not to stifle debate by picking sides. But Shawnee State chose a different route: It punished a professor for his speech on a hotly contested issue. And it did so despite the constitutional protections afforded by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the professor's free-speech and free-exercise claims.
Did the district court err in dismissing the professor's claim that the university's application of its gender-identity policy violated the Free Speech clause and the claim that the university violated the Free Exercise Clause?
The court held that the district court erred in dismissing the professor's claim that the university's application of its gender-identity policy violated the Free Speech clause because the First Amendment protected the academic speech of university professors, and the professor had plausibly alleged that the university violated his First Amendment rights by compelling his speech or silence and casting a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. Furthermore, the district court erred in dismissing the professor's claim that the university violated the Free Exercise Clause when it disciplined him for not following the university's pronoun policy because the professor plausibly alleged that the university's application of its gender-identity policy was not neutral.