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Former Calvin University professor claims he was fired after officiating LGBTQ+ wedding


Joseph Kuilema is suing his former employer, Calvin University, accusing the religious school of “associational discrimination” and “retaliation.”

A former Calvin University professor is suing the school, claiming his contract was terminated because he officiated an LGBTQ+ wedding and opposed showing a racially charged film on campus.

Joseph Kuilema had a 14-year career as a professor of social work at Calvin University, before it came to halt in August of 2022. In a lawsuit filed April of this year, Kuilema alleges the Christian school violated protections under the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, citing “associational discrimination” and “retaliation.”

“I appealed, students protested, my faculty colleagues protested, but the board had made up its mind,” Kuilema said.

The lawsuit claims Calvin’s decision to fire Kuilema came directly after he officiated a queer wedding for one of his former students, despite Kuilema getting support from his department at the school.

“The faculty handbook that governed what I could do as a faculty member includes the word marriage once. It has no definition of marriage. There was nothing in there that seemed to preclude me from doing this,” Kuilema told WGVU.

The lawsuit also states that prior to Kuilema’s contract release, the professor had complained about the university showing the film, “How Jack Became Black,” due to its perpetuation of racism against Black individuals. Kuilema believes this contributed to his termination.

Kuilema claims in the lawsuit that at the time he officiated the wedding, Calvin didn’t have an official position on civil marriage, just on sexual relations.

During the summer of 2022 the Synod raised its views on homosexual relations to a confessional status, requiring teachings to be upheld by professors at CRC denominational schools.

The lawsuit cites a memo dated Dec. 13 2021, in which Calvin’s provost, Noah Toly, indicated that the “evidence” of Kuilema’s decision to officiate a queer wedding “may relate to various reappointment criteria.”

Calvin University told WGVU in a statement:

The Calvin University community has been well served throughout its 150-year history by having diverse viewpoints among its faculty. The university’s denomination, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), has recognized and supported this diversity of viewpoints, endorsing the university’s approach to confessional commitment and academic freedom. While there is room for personal disagreement with CRC doctrine, the university has clear expectations for employees regarding teaching, scholarship, and personal conduct, and follows established processes to review alleged violations of those expectations and to determine appropriate responses. We are confident those processes were followed in this case and plan to defend this lawsuit in court. At this time, the university has no further comment on active litigation.  

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