ISU assistant coach Kurt Beathard returned from a temporary leave in 2020 to find that find the Black Lives Matter poster taped to his door. The popular coach replaced the poster with his own personal message that reflected his faith – “All Lives Matter to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Beathard was immediately – and he contends illegally – fired by head coach Brock Spack and then-athletic director Larry Lyons, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Filed in a U.S. District Court last week, Beathard’s lawsuit alleges that the firing amounted to retaliation and viewpoint discrimination at a public university.
“Beathard claims he was told he was fired because Spack did not like the direction of the offense,” noted the Tribune. “The lawsuit claims Spack and Lyons terminated Beathard because ‘he did not toe the party line regarding Black Lives Matter.’”
“The complaint also says that Beathard had the right to freely express his views as an employee of a public university,” it added. “The suit states that Beathard set several records and that the team achieved national ranking with his offense in 2014 and 2015 and again in 2018 and 2019.”
The lawsuit further details that Beathard returned to campus fraught with tension stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement. Students continued to pressure the school’s athletic department to take a harder stance on the issue. Head coach Spack allegedly called the situation “freaking nuts.”
Larry Lyons eventually retired from his position as athletic director after he said “All Redbirds Lives Matter” during a Zoom meeting with student-athletes. Redbirds referred to a nickname of the school.
Beathard said in the lawsuit he suffered tremendous economic and emotional distress due to the firing. His attorney, Doug Churdar, argued in a news release that a public university should not be regulating employee speech.
“It’s come to this. If you put the government’s message on your door, you keep your job,” Churdar wrote. “If you replace it with your own message, you’re fired. That’s exactly what happened.
Under the ISU Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policy, Beathard is guaranteed free speech:
“Illinois State University … is strongly committed to the ethical and legal principal that each member of the University Community enjoys the right to free speech. The right of free expression and the open exchange of ideas stimulates debate, promotes creativity, and is essential to a rich learning environment… As members of the University Community, students… and staff have a responsibility to respect others and show tolerance for opinions that differ from their own…”
The school however adds that “The value of free expression, however, may be undermined by certain acts of harassment and discrimination that may result in the deterioration of a quality learning, work, or campus community environment and therefore will not be tolerated.”
“There’s only one reason Beathard isn’t offensive coordinator at ISU: he did not toe the party line on BLM,” he added.