Baptism by classroom
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Florida teacher oversteps bounds by acting on beliefs
Jerry Buell, a Florida high school teacher, recently made some nasty anti-gay comments on his Facebook page. A public backlash soon followed, and cries for his immediate termination swept across the internet.
Despite being opposed to Buell’s way of thinking, I was, when planning this article, ready to defend him. Not because of what he said, but because he said it outside of the classroom setting and as a member of the general public.
Further insights into Buell’s teaching career have been uncovered, however, and they shed doubt on whether or not he kept his beliefs to himself while teaching.
First things first, the man is a bigot, and I take serious issue with his beliefs. I do not, however, feel that he should be censored for those beliefs simply because he is a school teacher.
One does not sign away their right to free speech upon entering into a teaching profession. So long as it’s kept out of the classroom and away from all those young minds the teacher has influence over, of course.
Some may argue that making any sort of religious or political statement publicly is, in effect, still an instance of a teacher going too far since it has a chance of reaching the ears and minds of the students. But if that is the case, then the only solution would be to restrict teachers from expressing themselves at all.
If you think we have a shortage of good teachers now, try telling them they’re no longer allowed to have an opinion. A teacher simply should not be risking their career every time they make an opinionated statement.
So long as they are not in the classroom or acting as an emissary of the school when they do so.
And that point is where my defense of Buell ends. Initially, it seemed that his beliefs were confined to his personal life, but there’s evidence that he may have been attempting to foist them off on his students.
His syllabus informed his students that “I teach God’s truth. I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, ’cause I ain’t changing!”
“God’s truth” does not belong in the classrooms of a public school. Regardless of denomination, or lack thereof, teachers are not supposed to be proselytizing to their students. Buell appears to disagree, as there is another document where he reportedly states that he views the classroom as his “mission field.”
While such a statement raises many red flags, so far there’s no indication that he used his influence as a tool to convert his students, though as the investigation progresses new facts may be discovered.
When cases like this arise, though, there is often a claim from the religious right that the LGBT community and their advocates are oppressing people’s right to believe what they wish to believe.
They confuse their right to believe with their right to do, as in the case of those New York City clerks who refused to sign same sex marriage certificates and were fired because of it. It wasn’t their beliefs they were being punished for, it was the actions they took based on those beliefs, actions that were against the policies of their employer.
They were hired on as employees of the State of New York, and they were expected to act in accordance with New York’s laws and regulations. They chose not to do so.
Buell was hired by the Florida school system, and was expected to act in a manner appropriate to that of a public school teacher, which meant keeping his beliefs to himself while interacting with his students. If it’s found that he didn’t do so, then any penalties he faces will be on his own head.
Our society does not punish belief, nor should it. It is the actions based on belief that people are called to task for. Believing that homosexuality is wrong is something that everyone has a right to do. Choosing to channel that belief into acts of discrimination and violence is a right that no one has.