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NC Governor’s School fires professor for speaking about harms of racially divisive ideology

ADF attorneys represent Dr. David Phillips in lawsuit
Dr. David Phillips, former professor at North Carolina Governor's School

RALEIGH, N.C. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit in state court Friday on behalf of a professor whom the North Carolina Governor’s School fired after he spoke out about the harms of the racially divisive ideology embraced by the school. Dr. David Phillips is a well-respected English professor who has spent eight summers teaching at the Governor’s School, a residential summer program for the state’s most talented rising high-school seniors.

For years, Phillips spoke out against the school’s increasing adoption of critical theory, an ideology that views everyone and everything through the lens of characteristics like race, sex, and religion, labeling people as perpetual oppressors or victims based on group membership alone. After Phillips delivered three optional seminars in June 2021 critiquing critical theory and the increasing bias and lack of viewpoint diversity in higher education, North Carolina public school officials fired him mid-session without any explanation.

“In an academic environment committed to exploring a wide range of differing viewpoints, as the Governor’s School claims to be, no teacher should be fired for offering a reasoned critique of critical theory. But that’s what happened to Dr. Phillips,” said ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton. “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.”

Over his eight years teaching at the Governor’s School, Phillips has encouraged his students to think for themselves and has notified the administration of the hostility that he and other students with “privileged” characteristics experienced. Phillips’ three optional seminars, which were similar to others he’d delivered in previous years and open to any student or staff member to attend if they so desired, discussed (1) a social psychology critique of some concepts from critical theory; (2) understanding speech through the lens of speech-act theory; and (3) the increasing ideological bias and lack of viewpoint diversity in higher education.

Following these lectures, a group of students and staff members reacted with open hostility, referencing race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion in their comments and questions. Despite the hostility, Phillips stayed long after the conclusion of each lecture to answer questions, even offering to meet with students later for further discussion. The day after Phillips’ third optional seminar, the Governor’s School fired him without warning or explanation. When he asked why, he was told no explanation would be given, and that there was no appeal or other recourse. Phillips had always received glowing performance reviews without a single negative comment up until the point of the lectures.

Phillips was referred to ADF by No Left Turn in Education. No Left Turn in Education, led by Dr. Elana Fishbein, provides parents, students, and teachers with the resources to understand and combat curriculum that violates students’ and educators’ rights.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Phillips v. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, in the Superior Court for Wake County, North Carolina. Anthony Biller of Envisage Law, one of nearly 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as co-counsel for Phillips.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Hal Frampton
Hal Frampton
Senior Counsel
Hal Frampton serves as senior counsel in the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom.