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A professor who says Calvin University denied him tenure for his LGBTQ+ rights advocacy and then didn’t reappoint him for officiating a marriage between two queer community members is suing.

Joseph Kuilema, who was an assistant professor of social work at Calvin, filed a lawsuit this month in Kent County Circuit Court against the Michigan university, which is owned by the Christian Reformed Church.

“I don’t believe that religion should be a blank check to discriminate in the United States,” said Kuilema, who is now a visiting professor at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University.

“I’m a social worker, I teach social work, and one of the core values of the social work profession is social justice,” he said.

His suit says, “Kuilema’s duties did not have religious significance. He did not teach religion, he was not involved in planning church outings or prayers, he did not prepare students for any religious functions, and he did not incorporate religious teaching into his courses.” It also questions the university's stance on LGBTQ+ marriages at the time of his ouster.

He said he officiated a nonreligious marriage in 2021 between two people who publicly identified then as lesbians, but one of whom he knew was more privately identifying as a transgender man.

He said his employment was terminated as of August 2022—after not being recommended for reappointment by a Professional Status Committee that included two faculty members he had disagreed with over the showing of a film he viewed as perpetuating racism.

His suit alleges violations of a Michigan civil rights law and seeks damages, including punitive damages.

“The Calvin University community has been well served throughout its 150-year history by having diverse viewpoints among its faculty,” a university spokesman said in an email Friday. “The university’s denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, 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 … We are confident those processes were followed in this case and plan to defend this lawsuit in court.”