‘Standing up for free speech’

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Kate Rohde was a trailblazer as a female Unitarian minister. But, she says, a cancel culture takedown left her scraping by at age 74, stripped of her ministership and her pension.

In 1980, Rohde was among the first female ministers in her denomination and used her position to fight for progressive values. She even officiated a lesbian wedding back in 1982.

“I’ve given my whole life to upholding enlightenment liberal values that are the cornerstone of Unitarian universalism,” the Glen Mills, Pennsylvania resident told The Post. “And I gave up a heck of a lot in order to do this. It wasn’t easy as a woman back in the day.”

But, after retiring in 2014, Rohde found herself under attack, she says, for speaking out against what she considers a “woke takeover” of her church.

Kate Rohde in her clerical robe
Kate Rohde says she was cancelled for pushing back against woke fellow Unitarians. She had her ability to practice as a minister revoked, meaning she also lost her pension.
Courtesy of Kate Rohde

And she has turned to Samantha Harris and Michael Thad Allen, the lawyers who represent America’s most cancelled.

The duo defend anyone who feels they’ve been targeted by the mob —whether they’re a student accused of sexual assault, a professor attacked on Twitter, or an everyday citizen who finds themself out of a job for saying the wrong thing.

The pair have been dubbed the “lawyers to the cancelled.” Harris says the title is “sort of a joke” but that “the reality is that a significant part of our practice does deal with cancellations.”

“Before you decide that cancel culture is not real, you need to talk to the people I deal with on a daily basis,” Harris told the Post. “They’re crying because they just lost their job and they have two little kids and they’re being forced to sell their house.”

Mike Allen and Samantha Harris
Since teaming up in 2021, Allen and Harris have provided legal counsel to Rohde and countless other cancel culture victims.
Stephen Yang

“It’s heartbreaking sometimes,” Allen added.

In Rohde’s case, she claims that she was singled out for speaking up at which she describes as a “coup” and “institutional takeover” of the Unitarian Universalist Association by activist church members.

Suddenly, she claims, the association declared itself a “white supremacist organization.” Black and transgender meeting attendees were given priority to speak first in a system called a “progressive stack.”

References to the Biblical adage “I was blind and now I see” were even scrubbed from hymns for being ableist and potentially offensive to blind people, she claims. 

Kate Rohde in a church pew
Rohde, 74, was left without a pension after the Unitarian church stripped her of her ministership.
Courtesy of Kate Rohde

Rohde claims she came to the defense of dissident church leaders who were being squeezed out, and spoke up to oppose the UUA’s attempt to prevent pastors from accessing legal counsel when under investigation.

“I was promptly called a racist for [believing in a right to attorney] and speaking it aloud and for traumatizing people by having that opinion,” Rohde claimed. From there, she alleges, woke church leadership unleashed a “coordinated cancellation process” on her. 

In October 2022, she was hauled before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, despite already being retired. She was presented with a 74-page complaint to the church’s Office of Ethics and Safety accusing her of defaming fellow Unitarians on social media and using transphobic and anti-disabled rhetoric.

Among her alleged offenses was speaking out to oppose changing the name of a pro-LGBT church campaign from “Standing on the Side of Love” to “Side with Love” so as not to offend people who cannot stand.

Sanding on the side of love Unitarian protesters
Rohde criticized the Unitarian Church’s decision to change the name of a campaign from “Standing on the Side of Love” to “Side with Love.”
First Unitarian Congregational Society Brooklyn

After 42 years of service, the committee upheld the complaint and revoked her status as a Unitarian minister.

Rohde has been stripped of her service pension, leaving her financially devastated—and dependent on a GoFundMe campaign to make up the difference.

But says she feels the committee never fully investigated her case, and claims they did not take into account more than the 40 letters written by fellow Unitarians in her defense.

“I basically became persona non grata,” she said. “I was kicked out of the denomination that I spent 42 years serving at great personal cost. They have negated my life. At 74 I have to start over.”

Kate Rohde in her time as a Unitarian minister
Rohde, who can no longer practice as a Unitarian minister, is working with the law firm to see what she can do to change her situation.
Courtesy of Kate Rohde

The Unitarian Universalist Association declined to comment.

But Rohde was glad to call Harris and Allen — and she says having a lawyer that knows the ins and outs of cancel culture has been a blessing.

“It really is hard to get someone who’s willing to take on a case like this and who understands what’s happening,” she said. “But this battle is my little way of fighting back against the destruction of liberalism in the US.”

The two have made a unique practice. Harris, a Princeton University and University of Pennsylvania graduate, spent 15 years at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression defending students and professors who claimed their free speech rights were abridged, before teaming up with Allen.

Allen, 52, worked as a history professor at Georgia Institute of Technology for over a decade, then went back to law school at Yale at 42.

Mike Allen and Samantha Harris
Although most of Allen and Harris’s cases are on-campus, they take off-campus cancel complaints too.
Stephen Yang

Since starting their own practice in 2021, the duo has seen an explosion of cases on campus. “I realized there was something changing in academia that made it no longer recognizable to me,” Allen said.

Among those they are currently helping is Will Moravits, who says he was pushed out of his job as an instructor at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas, having put “target on his back” by being a vocal conservative.

Moravits was put on leave—and escorted out of his office by campus police—in March after a student anonymously complained that the academic said pedophilia was rampant in the LGBT community and that the country needs more police brutality.

He says the allegations were outlandish mischaracterizations of conversations in which both sides of hot-button issues are debated in his Introduction to Political Science class. “I warn my students at the beginning of every semester that I’m going to play devil’s advocate,” he said.

Will Moravits
Will Moravits says his employment contract was terminated over an anonymous and since-rescinded student complaint.
Courtesy of Will Moravits

Nonetheless, Moravits, 45, was notified that his contract wouldn’t be renewed shortly after the allegation was made.

The school dropped its investigation into him without a conclusion when he was terminated. The consequences of being canceled have been devastating.

His wife can’t leave her job this year as planned, and he’s considering relocating his family to another college town or going back to his former job as a cop.

“I’ve been quite depressed,” Moravits, whose father died the week his contract was not renewed, said. “I’m just worried about job prospects, my future career, paying bills.”

St. Philip's College
Since losing his job at St. Philip’s College, Moravits is struggling to make ends meet.

But Moravits says he will not go down without a fight. With Allen, he has taken affidavits from three of the seven students in the class, all of whom affirm Moravits’ side of the story.

Moravits and Allen are scheduled for mediation with the Alamo Colleges District, which oversees the college, seeking either his job back or financial compensation—and he’s grateful to have a lawyer ready for the challenge.

“Anybody representing cancelled people like me will get put in the crosshairs too,” he said. “I’m just very, very appreciative of Mike and his law firm and for doing it.”

In a statement, the Alamo Colleges District’s associate vice chancellor of communications, Kristi Wyatt, said it did not comment on “personnel issues or issues related to pending or threatened litigation.”

Mike Allen
After a decade in academia, Mike Allen decided to go back to law school in his 40s.
Stephen Yang

Harris and Allen say they’re willing to stand up for anyone whose free speech was abridged—regardless of whether they personally agree.

“In the past I’ve defended people who are accused of anti-Semitic speech, and I’m a religious Jew,” Harris said. “But we now live in a society where unfortunately too many people only stand up for the speech of those that they agree with.”

One controversial case they took on is that of Charles Negy, a professor at the University of Central Florida for more than two decades until he tweeted “Black privilege is real” and “as a group, [black people] are missing out on much needed feedback” in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

Charles Negy
Charles Negy was fired by his university over controversial tweets, despite being a tenured professor.
University of Central Florida

The tweet sparked national outrage and calls for his firing trended for days on social media. The experience, he says, was “a nightmare.” 

His family was afraid to be seen in public with him or even to order food online after protesters showed up near their home, he said — while the school solicited complaints about him.

Seven months later the school fired him for “repeated misconduct” in the classroom and allegedly imposing his political views on students.

A call for protest against academic Charles Negy.
Negy was targeted with protesters who came to his neighborhood after he tweeted about the murder of George Floyd. He says his family was fearful to even order food online during the campaign against him.

He claims the fallout was so severe that he was forced to sell his home at a loss after his sudden termination.

But Negy, 62, was reinstated to his job as an associate professor of psychology last year after an arbitration process found there was no cause for firing him.

Now, with the legal help of Harris, he’s suing the publicly-funded school in federal court for violation of his First Amendment rights, as well as infliction of severe emotional distress. UCF filed a motion to dismiss. Negy responded with an amended complaint and is currently awaiting another response from the school.

“No one has to agree with my sentiment,” Negy told the Post. “They can either ignore me or debate me or tell me that I’m an idiot. I don’t care.”

The University of Central Florida campus
Negy was reinstated by the University of Central Florida after an arbiter found they had no cause to fire him.

“Samantha was the perfect person for me to reach out to,” Negy said. “She’s on top of this, what’s going on at universities. I don’t have to explain to her what cancel culture is, or what the current culture is like on many campuses.”

The University of Central Florida’s communications director Courtney Gilmartin said its faculty “are expected to teach challenging topics as appropriate in their courses, to foster civil discussion, and to let students draw their own conclusions in a classroom environment free of harassment and intimidation.

Whether it’s a professor or a minister, a student or a senior citizen, Allen and Harris assume the role of both legal counsel and emotional counsel as their clients weather cancellation—something they both say can leave mortgage payments and medical bills hanging in the balance.

Samantha Harris
Harris says the cases she handles are often so upsetting they keep her up at night.
Stephen Yang

“When I get a case where somebody’s livelihood is on the line and they’re suffering, it actually keeps me up at night,” Harris said. “The trust that people put in me to be their voice in these situations is tremendously humbling.”

She says their fight is larger than any single case. It’s a fight for free speech itself.

“It’s really worth thinking about whether you want to live in a society where when someone says something you disagree with, the proper remedy should be for that person to lose their job and their livelihood.”

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