The right to free speech is guaranteed to each American by the Constitution. When that right is violated, the consequences can be heavy. As a high school teacher in Michigan recently discovered, the right to free speech protects viewpoints that differ as long as they are expressed in a non-threatening and non-disruptive manner.
In 2010, students at Howell High School were observing Anti-Bullying Day. Students involved in the Gay Straight Alliance Club had circulated fliers asking students to wear purple on October 20 to raise consciousness about bullying related to sexual orientation. A teacher, Johnson McDowell, chose to participate.
McDowell, an economics teacher, spent a few minutes at the beginning of each class period leading a discussion about bullying and sexual orientation. All went without incident until sixth period, when a student by the name of Daniel Glowacki protested that the teacher’s t-shirt discriminated against the student’s Catholic religion. Glowacki stated that he did not accept gays because of his faith. McDowell protested, and a back and forth ensued, with the result being that Glowacki was sent to the principal’s office with a referral.
The student transferred to a different class, but that wasn’t the end of the incident. He filed suit against the school district and McDowell. Recently, the court found in favor of Glowacki, sentencing McDowell to pay the plaintiff one dollar. McDowell’s counsel had argued that Glowacki’s in class statements were disruptive and intruded on the rights of others. The judge rejected these claims. Moreover, the judge found no evidence that Glowacki’s comments threatened or targeted a particular person, so it could not have violated the rights of other students.
The court decreed that McDowell had engaged in “viewpoint based discrimination” and that the student’s removal from class was brought about by the teacher’s disagreement with the student’s position on homosexuality.
The right of free speech is a precious one, and as McDowell has now learned, it protects all viewpoints. The free expression of dissenting opinions is in no way a violation of free speech. In fact, it is the most basic right guaranteed by the Constitution.