Free to Believe

Crystal Dixon

University of Toledo: Toledo, Ohio

In April 2008, Crystal Dixon, the associate vice president of human resources at the University of Toledo (UT), read a column published in the local Toledo Free Press called “Lighting the Fuse: Gay Rights and Wrongs” which compared the struggles of homosexuals to the struggles of black or handicapped Americans. Dixon took offense at the article and drafted a response titled “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective,” which was published on April 18, 2008. In it, she wrote, “As a Black woman who happens to be an alumnus of the University of Toledo’s Graduate School, an employee and business owner, I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are ‘civil rights victims.’ Here’s why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a Black woman. I am genetically and biologically a Black woman.”

Dixon’s column, though published as a private citizen without professing to represent her UT employer, so enraged college officials that she was suspended from her job and subjected to public outcry by UT President Lloyd Jacobs. In a Free Press follow-up article, Jacobs said that the university would take “internal actions” to ensure that his staff “fully aligns [its] utterances and actions with [the school’s] values system.”

On May 12, 2008, Dixon received a letter from President Jacobs stating that, effective immediately, her employment at the University was terminated because of the public position she had taken in the Toledo Free Press.

According to the American Freedom Law Center,

On other occasions, employees of the University, including its President, Jacobs, [had] publicly expressed personal opinions and viewpoints about various political and social issues. In fact, the Vice Provost of the University, Carol Bresnahan, who was identified by her official University position, was quoted in the Toledo Blade in December 2007 as stating, “[B]igotry is to blame for those who oppose the [domestic-partner registry] law. ‘It’s their religious beliefs, and bigotry in the name of religion is still bigotry.’” Despite the alleged emphasis on tolerance, equality, and diversity at the University, Jacobs did not reprimand Bresnahan for her bigoted, anti-religious comments, let alone terminate her employment.

On February 6, 2012, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled that the University’s firing of Dixon was justified because, in this case, the University’s diversity interests outweighed Dixon’s First Amendment rights.

On February 21, 2012, Dixon and her lawyers appealed her case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. However, on December 17, 2012, the Sixth Circuit also ruled in favor of the university. Her lawyers then filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, request that the Court review her case. On October 7, 2013, the Supreme Court denied review, effectively ending the case.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Crystal Dixon