Thursday, October 27, 2011

Should Gay-Bashing Teacher Lose Job?

Do teachers have to give up their First-Amendment right to free speech when they take their first job? In a strange twist on free speech, the ACLU is defending an ultra-conservative evangelical right-wing Christian's right to gay-bashing hate speech. The case of high-school teacher Viki Knox, the self-described "Jesus freak," reminds us that free speech is a complex issue.

Ms. Knox's school posted a display on a bulletin board recognizing LGBT history month. Ms. Knox was offended and not afraid to say so ... on Facebook. She wrote (emphasis in original):
"Homosexuality is a perverted spirit ... Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us? AND YOU ARE WRONG! I/WE DO NOT HAVE TO ACCEPT ANYTHING, ANYONE. ANY BEHAVIOR OR ANY CHOICES! I DO NOT HAVE TO TOLERATE ANYTHING OTHERS WISH TO DO."
I'm sure all of my readers will agree that Ms. Knox's comments are despicable, hateful, and should be an embarrassment to all civilized Americans. But ... what about free speech? Is Ms. Knox's hateful gay-bashing grounds for firing her? Don't teachers have a right to free speech?

Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, says Ms. Knox shouldn't be fired: "The ACLU believes that the response to offensive speech is not the restriction of speech, but more speech." In other words, the ACLU says Ms. Knox's hate speech should not disqualify her from teaching.

I rarely disagree with the ACLU, but in this case I do. I can't see how Ms. Knox can possibly treat her students fairly given her clear bias against gays and lesbian teens.

One of the most important rights we have as Americans is the freedom to say what we want, without fear of persecution, imprisonment or death (all of which were real fears before the American revolution, and are still fears in many parts of the world). And we also know that our morals, with rare exceptions, are none of our employer's business. As long as we're at work, we do our employer's bidding and act according to our employer's rules. And when we go home, we can be bigots and jerks, and it's none of our employer's concern.

But there are exceptions to this rule. Teachers, welfare workers, judges, law-enforcement officials and politicians have to understand that there is no brick wall between their public and private lives. It's more like a gauze curtain. Even the President of Boeing learned this the hard way.

"But," you might argue, "Ms. Knox is really fair in the classroom. She treats all the students equally. You'd never know from her classroom behavior that she's anti-gay. Let her keep teaching!"

Baloney. Her Facebook comments are sure to infiltrate her classroom. I'd bet a fair sum of money that news of her anti-gay diatribe spread like wildfire through the student body. Her life is only private inside the walls of her own home.

If I were the parent of one of Viki Knox's students, I'd exercise my own right to free speech and talk to my kids and the community about LGBT issues and Ms. Knox's religion-inspired hate speech. It would be an opportunity to explain that once a kid graduates from high school, it's the real world, filled with real people ... and they'll be on their own to face bigots like Ms. Knox.

Ms. Knox has a right to be an anti-gay bigot and to say so, or she has a right to be a teacher. But not both. She can't expect to hurl insults at the entire gay/lesbian community and then teach in a classroom that includes gays and lesbians.


  1. Need to friend her then hammer her. Kids need to post on their Facebook how closed minded she is.

  2. She should be fired and go work for a religious school if she feels that way. Gays are equal citiens in the eyes of the law. She's slandering and that ought to be against the school rules. I'd fire her.

  3. Society at large should never be able to dictate what speech is allowed, and what is proscribed. Period. It is by voicing unpopular opinions that we have grown as a culture. Everyone should be allowed to speak their mind without fear of losing their jobs.

    That said, discriminating or creating an air of prejudice inside her classroom should be immediate grounds for termination.

    Let her say what she wants outside of the classroom, but rightly restrict her actions inside it.

  4. A teacher doesn't have the right to influence children into believing what they believe. It is against the separation of church and state. Whether they like it or not, they're on government pay, they aren't a privatized company. They must abide by the laws that was set out to them. Freedom of speech does not mean you can go around promoting hate speech, disrupt the peace, threats, and falsely exclaim "Fire" in a building. Many people don't know that their are indeed limits on freedom of speech.

  5. Yes, I am in agreement. She has the right to be a hateful biggot outside of the school, on things such as facebook or any private profile she has. However, she should be prepared for the consequences of saying things people disagree with. If you keep it out of school then you shouldn't be fired, in my opinion. If it was in school though, get her the hell out of there.

  6. I think the real issue here, at least as I see it, is not about homosexuality at all. It's about an employee using a considerably public forum to vent passive aggressively at the decisions of her superiors.

    Instead of taking the issue up with the principle, a superintendent, education board or whatever else, she uses a public forum to vent about policy decisions.

    This lack of discreetness, discipline, and discretion is IMHO a perfectly valid reason for termination.

    On the internet writing in all capital letters is the equivalent of screaming. If she screamed the same sentiment in public in front of students/teachers, I doubt many would disagree with firing her. I can't see why this should change just because she's writing it instead.

    I'm sure plenty of teachers still think interracial couples are inherently immoral as well. I can't imagine being forced to sit though a class, knowing that she has seen me with a boyfriend of a different race, and trust her to be impartial after a simular statement directed at interracial couples.

    If a gay student is reprimanded by her, or there is a dispute over a gay child's grade; would the staff have to spend considerable time questioning her motives and ability to be impartial? I can not see how she has given them any other option but to do so in the future.

    Thinking about it, if I was her boss I would inform her that the school has decided to not accept her behavior and has chosen to take her advice and not tolerate her actions.

  7. Yes, she has the right to say whatever she wants, regardless of how offensive others might find it.

    No, she doesn't have the right to bring her bigotry into the classroom.

    The problem is this, where is the evidence that SHE brought any of that bigotry into her classroom. Did she discuss the class or students in her posts? Did she identify herself as a teacher at a specific school? Did her offensive speech enter the classroom by her direct behavior? That is not apparent from the information provided.

    It is not really enough for others who might read her hateful posts to carry her bigotry into the classroom. She must engage in actual behavior in the classroom or directed towards the classroom before she should be sanctioned.

  8. The way I see it there is already a test for this; replace her initial five words with other contentious ones against a group; replace "homosexuals" with something like "ni***rs" or "jews" or even "christians".

    None of these would be acceptable; a parent from any of those groups would be right in wanting their children pulled from that classroom.

    The issue is that she is a public figure, she is intended to maintain an aura of impartiality. Would it be any better if a Judge were saying these things in a public forum? A police officer? She's expressed a clear bias that calls into question her ability to be impartial towards her students. If this bias is the result of a religious belief it ironically is also a 1st amendment violation; a public figure espousing a religious preference.

  9. teachers like this are one of the reasons why LGTBQ teens are way more likely to commit suicide. hope she gets the can!

  10. Absolutely not.

    Could you imagine what it would mean if you started firing people who veered away from accepted societal beliefs?

    Sure she's got her own opinion and we disagree with her, but it's people like her that give definition to what we believe.

    Facebook is a private service, and this case should be approached much in the same way that we as citizens approach encroachment into children's lives outside of school by educational administrations.

    What is legal and is done outside of school is none of her employers concern.

    Counter to this, if the teacher held massive homosexual orgies at her home should that be grounds for her removal if parents found it offensive?

    Same argument.

  11. The thing about freedom of speech: it protects unpopular things you disagree with.

  12. the difference here is that participating in large homosexual orgies cannot be classified as hate speech. Wheras a clear idealogical bias can be and should be grounds for termination. Replace the teacher's profession with any other in the public's eye eg. a police officer or a judge would these very public "rantings" be acceptable to their superiors or would it be a case of "as long as he/she doesn't do it on the job it's ok"?

  13. I think she has every right to teach, and every right to be honest on any outlet. However, she should make her feelings openly available to her students. If you support gay rights, you could elect to not take her courses, and if she is the only teacher offering them, it should be the school's burden to cater to all students, without the fear of persecution.

  14. "..
    I rarely disagree with the ACLU, but in this case I do...."

    That is because you are an intellectually dishonest hypocrite who favors ideological compliance over critical thought and little more. You fit right in on the internet.

  15. yes but he won't we have creationists in congress :S


Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.