Should Michigan Teacher Jim McDowell Have Kicked A Kid Out Of Class For Being A Free Speech Absolutist?
Jay McDowell (pictured), the Michigan high school teacher suspended for a day after removing a student from his classroom for his beliefs on gays, violated the student’s First Amendment rights, his superintendent says. Also, the boy would like everyone to know he doesn’t hate homos!
Student Dan Glowacki, 16, supposedly walked into McDowell’s economics class at Howell High School and said “I do not support gay individuals.” It was Oct. 20’s Spirit Day, when everyone was encouraged to wear purple to support bullied LGBT youth, and Glowacki, a junior, was just speaking his mind! “The student was speaking out on being offended by the gay and lesbian lifestyle because it’s against his religion,” says Superintendent Ron Wilson. “The teacher said that wasn’t appropriate.”
But Glowacki wants to clarify what happened.
Daniel Glowacki said another student walked in the classroom wearing a belt buckle featuring the Confederate flag. After McDowell asked the student to remove the belt, Daniel Glowacki asked why it wasn’t permitted while several other students wore articles of clothing commemorating Spirit Day — some of which featured a rainbow, which has been known to signify gay pride. McDowell, Daniel Glowacki said, relayed to him the two meant different things. McDowell, the 16-year-old said, told him the flag signified lynching and hangings and that the student was not allowed to wear the belt buckle in his class. The discussion then turned to whether or not Daniel Glowacki is against gays — he said he is not. But, Daniel Glowacki said, McDowell said if he was against gays, he could leave the class.
And lest Glowacki walk around the rest of his life wearing a scarlet letter, he insists: “I don’t really care what people think, but I don’t want people to think I’m against gays. That’s just not true. … I never said I was against gays, but I did leave the class.”
The boy’s mother Sandy, who says she was not the one who filed the initial complaint against McDowell, had him transfer to a different economics class. But: “The things people have been saying online about my son have been terrible. My son is being bullied. This is the United States of America. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. … My son is not a bigot. He has a very diverse group of friends that includes some gays. If a gay student was being picked on in class, he’d stick up for them.”
In a school-wide email (subject: “Important Clarification from the School District’s Legal Counsel”), instructors were told:
We have been asked to provide guidance to staff specifically with respect to the fact that from time to time our students may wear or display Confederate insignia to which some of us may feel strongly opposed. After consulting with legal counsel, here is the advice we have received and thus provide to you:
In light of the Constitutional considerations, and with the clarification provided by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling specific to the Confederate flag (Castorina v Madison County School Board), staff are advised as follows: Where students display Confederate insignia (i.e., on their person or their vehicles) staff are advised to disregard and not make an issue of this. However, there is an important proviso to this advice. Action can be taken to restrict or prohibit the display without violating the First Amendment rights of students IF THE DISPLAY CAUSES A SUBSTANTIAL DISRUPTION OF, OR MATERIAL INTERFERENCE WITH, SCHOOL ACTIVITIES OR THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S EDUCATIONAL MISSION.
And that’s the gray area where schools’ and students’ free speech rights must coexist. If students must be allowed to wear clothing that explicitly supports homosexuality, do they also have the right to wear clothing that tangentially denounces it?
A Confederate flag can mean different things (“Southern pride!” or “Bring back slavery!”) to different people (“Fourth generation Mississippians” or “Racists”), though it does not have the words “hang blacks” on it. Then again, a Nazi swastika doesn’t say “gas Jews,” but if Aryan Nation boys and girls want to wear that to school, must we give them a pass?