“Christian Teacher Under Investigation For Opposing Homosexuality”

November 27, 2011

Political Theory


I came across an article last week titled, “Christian Teacher Under Investigation For Opposing Homosexuality.”  This immediately caught my attention, as I hope it did yours, and my initial reaction was that this must be a simple case of freedom of speech.  I read further and found out that a New Jersey teacher was under investigation for posting negative remarks about homosexuality on her Facebook.   Again, I felt that this was a freedom of speech case: it is in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that we have the right to express our opinions, no matter how unpopular they may be.  This reminded me of John Stuart Mill’s argument, which is that freedom of expression is essential for humanity to approach true knowledge over time.  With all of this in mind before even reading most of the article, I instinctively thought that the teacher had a right to express her opinion.  I put the title of the article as the title to my post to see what your initial reaction was as well.

After reading more of the article, I realized that there was a lot more to the story than appears in the headline.  First of all, the Facebook post did not just state that the teacher opposed homosexuality but also mentioned that homosexuality is a sin that “breeds like cancer” and is “perverted.”  Although the teacher is still expressing her opinions, the type of language she used struck me as inconsiderate and rude.  The article mentions that Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, said the teacher’s “vicious, anti-gay remarks on Facebook crossed the line.”  Nevertheless, the teacher’s husband said that she still has the right to express her opinion.

Is the teacher’s harsh language still part of her expression or is it harming others?  Although Mill strongly believes in freedom of speech, he does make an exception called the harm principle.  He basically says that if the expression is hurting other people, then it should not be allowed.  In this case, there is no physical harm whatsoever, but there is emotional harm on people who support homosexuality.  The emotional and mental harm that expressing an opinion could have on others is something that Mill does not explicitly discuss though.  Do you think Mill would say that this is a case where freedom of speech should apply or might he factor in emotional harm?

Secondly, freedom of religion comes into play with this issue.  Not only was the New Jersey teacher expressing her opinion, but she was expressing her religious beliefs.  Ada Davis, an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund, said, “Teachers obviously should not be punished for exercising these kinds of constitutionally protected rights.  She has a right to communicate her religious beliefs.”  This quote made me think of John Locke, who viewed the government and religion as separate entities with separate purposes.  Locke clearly states that the state cannot successfully use force, such as punishment, to alter such religious beliefs.  He therefore felt that the state should have no influence on what religion its people believed in and how they practiced their chosen religion, unless it was politically necessary or harmful.

However, Locke also discusses the importance of toleration by the churches themselves.  He was writing during a time when Catholicism was gaining power in England.  Locke felt strongly that the church and magistrate tolerate other religions besides their own in order to prevent conflict.  He might therefore question if the teacher is tolerating people with opposing beliefs.  I feel that her use of wording and means of expressing her religious belief go against Locke’s view of toleration.  The teacher does not have to accept other people’s beliefs on homosexuality, but she should not criticize them, especially so publicly.  But the teacher was not going out of her way to create conflict and force people to practice her religion.  Would Locke say that the teacher was tolerating those who do not believe homosexuality is a sin?

Lastly, we cannot forget that this woman is an authority figure and affects the lives of many kids every day.  She was not explicitly expressing these opinions against homosexuality in school.  However, there likely are homosexual kids in the school where this teacher works and people are questioning if she would treat homosexual kids differently.  Others are unsure if the teacher would enforce the school policy that does not allow bullying of homosexual kids.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this case on both sides and it is clear that this issue is much more complex than at first sight.  Is it alright to question the teacher’s motives and actions based on her opinion of homosexuals?   Should the teacher be fired for expressing her opinion, like many are demanding of the school board?

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5 Comments on ““Christian Teacher Under Investigation For Opposing Homosexuality””

  1. euriosti Says:

    I don’t believe that the teacher should be under so much criticism. She is entitled to her beliefs and allowed to express them freely. Her profession is the only reason she is getting media attention. I think that the only circumstance you would need to be concerned with this type of behavior is if she said these types of things during class. Teachers aren’t supposed to interject their personal beliefs into class lectures. This goes against teaching etiquette and would upset a lot of parents. Outside of the classroom, a teacher should be entitled to voice their opinions. While it may not be the best decision to express one’s opinions of controversial topics over a public forum, it should certainly be allowed. Getting fired for expressing your opinions is ludicrous. Every teacher has their own opinions. Some are more vocal about them than others. As long as this doesn’t affect the classroom setting, Knox should keep her job.

  2. ayablan Says:

    This article is very interesting and definitely provokes a lot of thoughts. When I initially began to read this article, I firmly believed that this teacher should be fired. I do not agree with her statements at all, but after finishing the article I do not feel that she should be fired.
    This teacher was merely expressing her freedom of speech. It was clearly a little extreme, but, nonetheless, she has every right to do this. She has not been known to instill these ideas on her students so it does not appear to be a problem. Everyone has different opinions and everyone is entitled to voice their own opinions. She should not be punished for merely voicing her opinion.
    I agree with euriosti when they said that this is a big deal because she is a teacher. Unfortunately that is the way this world works. Teachers have the huge responsibility as they are supposed to shape the youth of our country. Many people would question how we could have a teacher who has such outrageous beliefs, but it is not our place to fire someone for voicing their opinions.
    This incident brings up John Stuart Mill’s ideas of freedom of speech. His harm principle states that freedom of speech is no longer allowed when it is harming another person. This teacher’s statements were not physically harmful in any, but I guess they can be emotionally harmful. However, her statements weren’t directed at one person so I dont think the harm principle should take effect here. I believe it should only take effect when it is directed at a specific person.
    All in all, I think what this teacher did was incredibly wrong. I agree with none of her statements and I think it is a ridiculous thing to do. However, I don’t think it would be fair to fire her. She is merely voicing her opinion and even though many think it is wrong, she is still entitled to her opinion. Just because she is a teacher, it does not mean that she should be treated any differently.

  3. jpstern Says:

    I agree with an above comment that the teacher shouldn’t facing so much criticism. I strongly believe that what she is doing is wrong, but we have to evaluate what her freedoms are. If she were to be sent to jail for this “offense” I think it would be a poor showing of our judicial system. A middle school teacher near where I live was recently convicted of sexual misconduct with his students. This is a much worse example of a teacher doing something unjust and illegal in a school system. He was sent to jail because he directly harmed young children. This teacher is just expressing her beliefs on homosexuality and unless her school system has a policy clearly stating that teachers must keep their opinions out of the classroom then I don’t think that there is much that can be done to this teacher.

  4. schoemad Says:

    Before reading the article, I felt that this teacher should be fired from her position. As a teacher of students of all different types of backgrounds and beliefs, there should be no public announcement showing any discrimination towards anyone.
    I find myself being really harsh on and definitely biased towards this teacher due to the fact that I am gay. If I were to hear that one of my teachers harbored hate towards me for something as insignificant as my sexual orientation, I would definitely be very angry. How can I trust a teacher who hates me for something that I can’t control.
    After fully reading the article, I have been persuaded to be less harsh on the teacher. She should not be fired, but she should definitely apologize on behalf of her school and coworkers. It’s such a hard predicament to assess because although she is potentially harming her students, she has many rights that defend her. Her rights of religion and speech defend her and there are worse examples of hurtful speech such as when the Westboro Baptist Church protests. Because this women is a teacher, people expect more from her especially because of her constant presence in a child’s life. Overall, those types of comments should not be made on facebook especially by someone who is in a respectable profession such as teaching.

  5. mzselig Says:

    When I came across this article and its title, I had the reaction you had intended; I was taken aback by the title and was immediately perturbed. After reading the article, I am still pretty angry about the statements the teacher made and completely agree with the arguments that Locke would make about this case.
    While the teacher is entitled to her freedom of speech, as is every human being in the United States, I feel that this particular case does trigger the harm principle. Not only do these comments cause mental and emotional harm to those who live a homosexual lifestyle, it also insults the intelligence of those who believe that homosexuality is a right that can not and should not be attacked by any person. The argument that the teacher’s arguments are based on religion and therefore can not be discounted because of freedom of religion is frankly an argument that should not be even taken into account. Many opponents of gay rights base their argument on their religion and want the government to take action against gay marriage and rights because of the religious lens through which they view gay rights and marriage. This clearly violates the separation of church and state on which our country and government was founded upon. In recent years, religion has permeated the government and the elected officials that constitute its branches, degrading the separation we must obey.
    The teacher’s comments, no matter what angle you view them from, are hurtful and offensive on many different levels. It does not matter that they are simply her views, the harm principle comes into effect when comments such as these attack a group of individuals as well as the intelligence of those who support the rights of homosexuals in this country.

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