Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Freedom of speech trumps tolerance

Being under 30 and disagreeing with progressive politics, I often find myself on the dark side of the issues my friends bring up. Case in point, this post a friend recently shared showing a 14 year-old-boy criticizing a Detroit school board's decision to suspend a teacher for punishing an "anti-gay student."

Now I don't like to kick puppies down hallways or snatch lollipops from toddlers, but I might as well for wondering what exactly they meant by an "anti-gay student." I can already see that the video is very popular online, but the focus is on the boy's speech about the teacher, not the background story. Wanting to know more, I clicked the embedded link, but isn't that kind of like stepping on someones sandcastle? Shouldn't I just accept the one single-paragraph summary?

Being a vicious bully, I saw that the link brought me to a gay rights news site that said the punished student was wearing a confederate flag belt buckle and told the class, "I do not support gay individuals." The writer then speculated that this must be a cleaned-up version of what he said, as no one really talks like that, but a hoodlum like me can't be satisfied with well-intentioned wild guesses so I kept looking.

The Associated Press had a few things to add. For one, another student was wearing the rebel flag accessory, which lead to a classroom discussion on the appropriateness of pride symbols. Still, the punished student is not a hero. It said he was wearing an "anti-gay bullying shirt," but with no way for the reader to find out what that meant. Still, the student was not disciplined for his shirt, but for saying that he doesn't accept gays during the discussion.

McDowell said he told the student he couldn't say that in class.

"And he said, 'Why? I don't accept gays. It's against my religion.' I reiterated that it's not appropriate to say something like that in class," McDowell said Monday.

McDowell said he sent the boy out of the room for a one-day class suspension. Another boy asked if he also could leave because he also didn't accept gays.

So being in league with evil, I have to ask, what good are classroom discussions if certain viewpoints on contemporary topics results in punishment? For example, I honestly do believe that transgenderism is a disorder of some variety, and not a normal variation in human identity. I don't want them harmed or ridiculed, I just disagree with their explanation of what the condition is. I have the same interpretation listed in the DSM IV and it's going to be in the DSM V, but it's not acceptable with certain groups of social activists, who see an unemotional factual disagreement as hate speech. And that's what happened in Detroit: A teacher decided the admission of a belief he doesn't like is automatically malicious.

While I strongly support gay rights, I have to admit that our society has not reached a consensus on gays. It's good that the definition of hate speech have grown to include anti-gay slurs, but that doesn't give a teacher the ability to punish students for mildly disagreeing with gay rights. Clearly if the student had said something vulgar about gays or expressed a desire to use violence against them he should have been punished, but that's not what happened, so like a crazy street pamphleteer I have to say this issue is about freedom of speech.

Fortunately the ACLU, my usual accomplice in tying damsels to train tracks, wasn't shy about calling a spade a spade in the same AP article:

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Legal Project, credits McDowell for trying to create a "welcoming environment for all students." But Kaplan said the "teachable moment" would have come if the students stayed in the classroom.

"We believe, based on those statements - as offensive and upsetting as they were - they were protected speech," Kaplan said. "The only way we're going to create a better environment in schools is to start talking about this."

So yes, my liberal friends, I can see why you'd applaud a boy saying the school was wrong for punishing this teacher, and how that relates to the KKK and hatred. Between twirling my sinister mustache, I've learned a thing or two about using extreme examples to make a point. But before I put on my tall black hat and eye patch and ride my black horse to my secret volcano lair, I ask that you keep in mind your inspiring speech was based on a fanciful version of events and the white knights you ride with are making an assault on our freedom of speech


  1. Well, this is one liberal who agrees with you. I'll even point out that the more liberal, more progressive action would have been to use it as a teachable moment, as the ACLU representative suggested. There are a few nits here not worth picking, but one that is worth picking is the exact content, as quoted, of the student's speech. Not "accepting" homosexuals is analogous to not "accepting" another's race. That is no excuse to limit someone's speech, but it does provide insight that the comments were not as mild as the milquetoast AP made them out to be.

  2. You just need to hang out more with the right liberals. I don't think anything you've written here is disagreeable.

  3. As a dude that also usually finds himself on the side of "evil" but for righteous reasons (excuse the religious connotation there), I'll voice my support for your point of view here, Michael. It is very frustrating when run-of-the-mill liberals preach acceptance, but act by censoring those with whom they disagree. This is such an epidemic, it is easy to forget that there are liberals who are truly open-minded. Jeremy and Robert, on behalf of Libertarians everywhere, thank you for embodying that which true liberalism should be about.

  4. Unfortunately as a former teacher in the public schools, you would be surprised how often student comments about politics are misconstrued but their teachers. Most classrooms where political discussions go on are run by far left teachers who are suppose or should take a center stance and play devils advocate to students opinions. That way students learn from all angles of an argument.

    Unfortunately, like this story that does not happen, to often students with conservative view points are ridiculed by other students and teachers, something that I have experienced as a student and as a teacher.