A judge ruled last week that when a Michigan high school teacher kicked a student out of his class because he said he objected to homosexuality, he violated that student’s right to free speech. It was more of a moral victory for the student, Daniel Glowacki, because the judge only awarded him a single dollar in damages.
The incident that caused the lawsuit occurred in 2010 on national Anti-Bullying Day at Howell High School. On the day in question, members of the Gay-Straight Alliance had asked students and teachers to wear purple to celebrate the special day. In addition to purple, some students also wore clothing covered with rainbow flags and other symbols in support of the GSA.
Johnson McDowell, an economics teacher, chose to wear purple and also elected to take the time to talk to his students about bullying and show them an anti-bullying video. At some point during his class, he noticed a student wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle and asked him to remove it, The Daily Caller reported.
According to court documents, at this point Glowacki testified that he “calmly raised [his] hand” and asked McDowell why one student could not wear a Confederate flag belt but others could wear purple shirts and display rainbow flags. Glowacki said that purple shirts discriminated against Catholics and said, “I don’t accept gays.”
McDowell told Glowacki he could not say that. Daniel then amended his statement.
“I don’t accept gays because I’m Catholic,” he said. Angry by this point, McDowell said that saying “I don’t accept gays” is the same as saying “I don’t accept blacks." When Glowacki did not take back what he had said, McDowell kicked him out of class.
In his opinion, the judge wrote:
“This case highlights a tension that exists between public school anti-bullying policies and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Far from being irreconcilable, however, this tension merely illustrates the well-established principle that public schools must endeavor to balance competing interests: public schools must strive to provide a safe atmosphere conducive to learning for all students while fostering an environment that tolerates the expression of different viewpoints, even if unpopular, so as to equip students with the tools necessary for participation in a democratic society. This delicate balancing act has led the Supreme Court of the United States to recognize that while the First Amendment undoubtedly applies to students in public schools, school officials have greater authority to regulate speech than government officials in other settings.”