Religious Freedom in Public School Classrooms

Newspapers and blogs around the world are lionizing a 14-year old boy, whose video is getting a lot of attention, for a speech he’s made defending a teacher for throwing two students out of class for making allegedly anti-homosexual comments. The national and international accounts read what happened according to a pre-existing (a priori) template: “Homophobic students righteously upbraided by heroic teacher.” According to paper nearer to the story there is more to the story.

According to a member of the local school board “There is a common thread throughout the witness statements….” That thread is that the teacher incited the students to ask questions and when two (Roman Catholic) students asked questions and made statements with which the teacher disagreed he was not tolerant, patient, and gracious (i.e., truly liberal). According to those present, he was hostile, abusive, and even violent. I’m minded to believe the testimony of those present at the incident because it fits with my experience as a public school student, where I saw this sort of illiberal attitude among those who professed to be “liberal.”

The pro-teacher video makes a number of striking claims. Let’s consider two of them. First, the student begs the question by assuming what has to be proved: that homosexuality is naturally, biologically, and morally, the equivalent of race. Invoking Dr King’s “Dream” speech is powerful rhetoric but misleading. The student assumes that “content of our character” excludes violating the laws of nature. That has to be proven. Race is obviously not a matter of character but homosexual behavior is a arguably a matter of character. Further, is there really a “silent holocaust” in North America in which 6 million homosexuals annually commit suicide? Well, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) there were about 34,500 suicides in the USA in 2007. If there are 6 million suicides in the USA then it’s more than a silent holocaust, it’s an invisible holocaust as well. Indeed, the NIMH doesn’t list sexual orientation as a leading cause of suicide in the USA. As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

It’s interesting that the teacher, according to the testimony of the students, did not try to persuade the students to change their minds. I thought that persuasion, not force, was of the essence of liberalism.

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