Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Was Michigan Teacher Wrong to Eject Students for Anti-Gay Remarks?

The First Amendment doesn't permit yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Nor does it permit establishment of religion. So does it entitle high school students to make statements that might cause others to harm themselves, particularly when those statements are based on religion? Hmmm. Still, if I had been this teacher, I might have asked the students not to create an atmosphere in which their religion might negatively impact the health of other students, but I don't think I'd have ejected them.

Was Michigan Teacher Wrong to Eject Students for Anti-Gay Remarks?
by Tom Henderson
Nov 16th 2010

Someone was bullied in a Michigan classroom on Oct. 20. Exactly who was the victim and who was the bully, however, depends on your point of view.

Popular opinion -- at least as it was expressed at a community forum held Nov. 8 -- says Howell High School teacher Jay McDowell was in the right.

McDowell was suspended for a day, his supporters say, because he defended gay and lesbian students against hate speech. However, district officials say he violated the First Amendment rights of students.

Both sides, though, generally agree on the sequence of events that day.

Many Howell High School students came to class wearing purple T-shirts for Spirit Day, a national effort to oppose the bullying of gay and lesbian young people.

However, a female student came to McDowell's class wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle, instead. McDowell told her to remove it. She did so without defiance.

Then a male student asked why she was not allowed to wear a Confederate flag when other students were allowed to wear purple as a political statement. After McDowell explained his position, he asked the student if he had changed his mind.

The student said no. He still believed homosexuality violated his religious beliefs. At that point, McDowell ejected him from the classroom. Another student then spoke in support of the first student. He, too, was ejected.

Kim Root, a spokesperson for the Howell School District, tells ParentDish, officials learned all this after a thorough investigation. The students were not acting angry or belligerent, she says.

Even McDowell himself confirms this in interviews with the Associated Press and other news organizations.

Root says the district investigation was prompted by complaints from parents about how McDowell handled the students. She says officials suspended him after determining he violated district policies that protect students' freedom of speech.

The incident comes on the heels of highly publicized suicides by gay young people, suicides apparently prompted by bullying.

Emotions were running high at the Nov. 15 community forum before the Howell School Board.

Graeme Taylor, a 14-year-old resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., came to speak in support of McDowell.

"When you hear of things like Dr. King's speech that one day he wanted his grandchildren, his posterity, to not be judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character, I hope that one day we, too, can be judged by the content of our character and not by who we love," he says in a video recording of the meeting.

"There is a silent Holocaust out there where an estimated 6 million gay people every year kill themselves," he adds...

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