Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Goin' to the School Dunce

The Christian Post seems surprised that an atheist might defend the rights of a homophobe.

A Florida high school teacher who was suspended from the classroom for a comment he made against gay marriage on his Facebook page has gained an unlikely defender – an atheist.

Hemant Mehta, also known as the "friendly atheist," initially wanted to join in on the backlash against the teacher – Jerry Buell from Mount Dora High School. But he now argues that Buell should not be punished for his beliefs about homosexuality, as long as they are not articulated in the classroom.

"This is a free speech issue," Mehta wrote on his blog Saturday. "You don’t have to like what Buell said – I know I don’t – but everyone has the right to believe what they want, even if it’s crazy, untrue, or harmful."
Buell's comments are pretty objectionable, especially coming from someone who has been a Social Studies Department chair and has taught American history and government:

I'm watching the news, eating dinner, when the story about New York okaying same sex unions came on and I almost threw up. And now they showed two guys kissing after their announcement. If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don't insult a man and woman's marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool as same-sex whatever! God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable???
Umm ... one man's "sin" is another man's perfectly acceptable behavior and a social studies and history teacher should know that.

Buell was suspended from his job for violation of the school's "social media policy."

But even worse are the comments of Chris Patton, communications officer [Officer? As in Keystone Kop?] for Lake County schools, who helped develop the guidelines:

People think they're free to say what they want to, but in some aspects it can come back to haunt you.
Uh ... people are free to say what they want to say ... it's that First Amendment thingie ... at least on their own time and in their personal capacity.

The leading Supreme Court case in this regard is probably Pickering v. Board Of Education. In that case a teacher was dismissed for sending a letter to a local newspaper critical of the Board of Education concerning a proposed tax increase. The Court held "absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him [i.e., defamation of the board members], a teacher's exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment."

A teacher may also be restricted in his speech during class, such as being prevented from teaching creationism in science class, or in what he says in government publications or on government websites, but that is not the case here, where the comments were on his personal Facebook page.

For once Liberty Counsel is right (blind pigs and acorns and all that):

If the First Amendment does not protect Mr. Buell’s right to voice his personal opinion, on his personal time, from his personal computer, on his personal Facebook page, then the First Amendment means nothing.

Dumb question here: I've heard about teachers getting reprimanded or fired for having photos on their personal Facebook pages that administrators think send the wrong image, like, oh, I dunno, maybe something involving jello shots and it just sends the communications officer aquiver about the school's reputation from there . . .

Is posting a photo of yourself (which is definitely of a personal, off-hours nature) a free speech issue?

-- pew sitter
Is posting a photo of yourself (which is definitely of a personal, off-hours nature) a free speech issue?

Yes. But that's not the end of it. Free speech is not unlimited and just because you have the right to publish doesn't mean that others can't retaliate.

A public school teacher probably cannot be punished for having pictures on Facebook showing her/him downing jello shots (not on school property!). Pictures of her/him downing jello shots (anywhere!) with students is getting her/his ass fired.

In the first case, simply having a drink is permissible adult conduct for a public employee (not like those 7th Day Adventists who got fired from an Adventist college for having a bit of wine while watching a football game). In the second it is evidence of improper conduct.

It gets murkier in between. Lots of pictures of jello shots at lots of differnt events may raise legitimate concerns leading to investigation of the teacher but just the pictures should not be grounds for dicipline.

-- pew sitter
Is it a sign of age that I had to do a search on "jello shot"?
RBH: I had to look it up, too, and I think I'm a little younger (54yo) than you.
Hah! I'm 62 and I knew what they were.

I guess that makes me the real hep cat of the internet.

. . . or maybe RBH and E.K. are in more elevated enclaves!

-- pew "oh, just fix me a gin and tonic, Skippy!" sitter
Hah! I'm 62...

Hey, me too! That was a good year.
(mutter mutter) 62? Kids!
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