Click the photo of Graeme Taylor (at left) to see the video of his very impressive testimony at a local school board meeting, in support of a high school teacher who was disciplined for his stance against a student’s statement regarding homosexuality.
Also, you can click the image at right to see video of Graeme Taylor and the teacher, Jay McDowell, on MSNBC. A public forum on the matter announced for Monday Nov. 15 took place in the High School cafeteria, where speakers expressed different points of view.
The 14-year-old Taylor is certainly impressive, in any number of ways. He reminds us of the also very impressive Will Phillips, the 5th-grader who took a stand for gay rights in Arkansas.
The Michigan teacher, Jay McDowell, might also be admired, but not commended, for taking a courageous stance in defense of gay youth. What McDowell did was an improper violation of the rights of the student he was disciplining, at least according to the facts as I’ve seen them reported. Here’s what happened as reported by the On Top magazine staff:
The incident occurred on Spirit Day, the October 20 event that urges people to wear purple to remember gay teens who have been bullied to death.
Wearing a purple shirt, the teacher asked a student to remove a Confederate flag belt buckle, which prompted a boy to ask how the flag differs from the rainbow flag, a symbol of gay unity.
“I explained the difference between the flags, and he said, ‘I don’t accept gays,’” McDowell said.
McDowell told the student it was not appropriate to say such things in the classroom.
“And he said, ‘Why? I don’t accept gays. It’s against my religion,’” the 42-year-old McDowell said.
School officials say they suspended the teacher, who sent the boy out of the room for a one-day class suspension, because he violated the student’s free speech rights and courted controversy by wearing a purple shirt.
The legal principle is articulated in Judge Alito’s opinion in Saxe v. State College (PA) School District, 240 F.3d 200 (3rd Cir. 2000), with Judge Marjorie Rendell (spouse of PA Gov Ed Rendell) concurring in the result, but not all of Alito’s rationale. There’s a lot that I don’t like about that case, but it does articulate First Amendment principles that protect the student in this case from being disciplined for expressing the position of his church.
I see this as different from cases in which grade school students harass classmates in the hallways, yelling things like “You’re going to Hell.”
In this case, the offending student made a statement about himself — “I cannot accept homosexuality because my religion is against it” — not making a statement of condemnation against others. I think that makes a difference — and most certainly in high school.
Last updated 9:30 AM EST November 16, 2010