No Right to Free Speech in Public Job Interview

Dustin Buxton applied to the Radiation Therapy Program at a Baltimore-area community college. The 65-credit program grants an Associate of Applied Science, and graduates are poised to become radiation therapists for health-care providers, working with x-rays, MRIs, etc.

The Community College of Baltimore County, which denied Dustin Buxton admission to its Radiation Therapy Program.

Dustin got past the first stage of the application process (which was just a review of his file), and got an interview. The interviewer’s written record stated that, among other things, Dustin “brought up religion a great deal,” and that “religion cannot be brought up in the clinic by therapists or students.” Dustin was not admitted into the program. He sued, claiming that the college discriminated against him because of his expression of his religious beliefs during the interview.

Dustin lost. The Fourth Circuit ruled last month that his free-speech rights were not violated–comparing his case to instances in which the government provides a public service that by its nature involves the evaluation of, and distinction between, differing viewpoints (for example, a public university’s selection of its commencement speaker). The court provided this example:

“Would Buxton argue that the defendants violated his right to free speech if they denied him admission because he said, in his interview, that he views cancer as a punishment from God that should not be treated? Such a statement is undoubtedly a ‘viewpoint.’ And yet that would be a perfectly valid reason to deny him admission to a program that trains students to treat individuals with cancer.”

The court also held that there was no violation of the Establishment Clause, because there was a secular purpose in the college’s choice not to admit him; he ranked 36th (before his interview) out of 44 candidates for 15 available seats.

Case: Buxton v. Kurtinitis, No. 16-1826 (4th Cir. July 7, 2017) (opinion here)

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