Student's Free Speech Victory Is A Victory For Everyone Even If You Disagree With His Speech
from the your-right-to-say-it dept
As strong proponents of free speech, we’ve made the point in the past that protecting the freedom of speech is going to necessitate protecting it for the kind of speech you wouldn’t typically like to exist. Put another way, it’s quite easy to be in favor of free speech when you aren’t the one offended. It takes much more mental courage to stick up for the protected speech of a Nazi, a bigot, a sexist, or an idiot.
Or, as in this case, someone who ascribes to religious thoughts with which you may not agree. The story of then high school student Daniel Glowacki, who was kicked out of class simply for saying that his Catholicism didn’t allow him to accept homosexuals, acts as a lesson in protecting the speech of others. It began, as you’d never expect, in a Michigan classroom, with a child wearing confederate flag belt. When the teacher, Johnson McDowell asked her to remove the belt, Glowacki pointed out that the teachers were all wearing purple for “Anti-Bullying Day.” That’s when things took a turn:
The teacher testified that he gave Glowacki an explanation on the difference in symbolism between the confederate and rainbow flag, to which Glowacki responded, “I don’t accept gays because I am Catholic.” Glowacki was instructed to leave and another student who shared the same belief asked to leave with him. According to affidavits from other students in the classroom, McDowell told them that “students cannot voice an opinion that creates an uncomfortable learning environment for another.”
Which, for those of you who may not remember what school was like, is complete and utter nonsense. More to the point, speech is absolutely protected. That’s why the fact that McDowell then kicked the students out of the class was a massive misstep. Despite the myth, students do not leave their constitutional rights at the doorway of their public school.
Now, it would be quite easy for me, and many like me, to say that Glowacki’s beliefs are bigoted, homophobic, wrong, and outdated. And I do say every single one of those things. But I’d be damned before I allow his right to say exactly what he said to be infringed upon. The thing about insisting that free speech is afforded the right to offend, regardless of any discomfort for those around us, is it cuts both ways. If we’re going to insist that we keep any sort of mandatory religion out of public schools (and we should), and if we’re going to insist the curriculum be secular (and we should), then we also have to afford those that don’t agree their right to voice their opposition.
Here’s the good news: it seems like nearly everyone involved in this case agrees, and they even did so without resorting to over-the-top punitive nonsense.
However, the school district disagreed with his reason of reprimand, stating that it was based on McDowell’s own personal offense [and] Judge Duggan held that the teacher violated the student’s First Amendment rights by engaging in viewpoint discrimination.
“As a reasonable teacher, McDowell should have known that Daniel’s protected speech could not serve as the basis for discipline or as the basis for believing a school district policy was violated,” the judge said.
McDowell’s punishment? $1 in damages to Glowacki. It might seem like a small amount for having violated a child’s constitutional right to speech, but come on, this ended perfectly. The lesson isn’t in the punishment. The lesson is that the enlightened position on speech is the protection of unenlightened speech.