Monday, August 27, 2007

Christian Public School Teachers Have a Right and Responsibility to Speak Out About Homosexuality

One scurrilous tactic that homosexual activists use to censor conservative voices is to notify employers whose employees have, in their free time, expressed traditional views on homosexuality in public forums like radio interviews, blog comments, or letters to the editor. I and others have experienced this deeply troubling, anti-liberal, and anti-American phenomenon. The point must be made that traditional views on homosexuality are not equivalent to racism, and homosexuality is not equivalent to race. Expressing the view that homosexual conduct, no matter what the origin of homosexual impulses, is immoral is not hateful and does not imply that those who identify as homosexual have less intrinsic worth than other humans.

Some public school employees who have experienced this bullying tactic have been “persuaded” to self-censor even outside their workplace. This demand for compliance constitutes a troubling abridgment of speech rights and an equally troubling intrusion into private lives. We must be prepared for these unethical demands for conformity and resist them, even when non-compliance results in persecution.

Some public school administrations believe they have the right to dictate the content and context of employee speech outside of the workplace. They believe they have the right to insist that employees refrain from making public statements that may generate controversy for the employer or that make students feel “unsafe,” by which they really mean uncomfortable. They are seriously in error. Public school administrations are wrong ethically and legally when suggesting that employees refrain from making political or moral statements on controversial topics in a public medium. They have no right to determine what kinds of public statements their employees make or where they make them.

As private citizens, teachers have a perfect right to be interviewed on the radio, write letters to the editors of newspapers, comment on blogs, speak at public protests, be interviewed by print reporters, or appear on television to discuss socio-political issues. If others identify where these teachers work, and if some students or parents dislike their views, that's unfortunate, but that is a messy fact of life in a participatory democracy. Are employees who oppose the war, or oppose capital punishment, or support gay marriage, or support partial birth abortions obligated to refrain from public engagement because others may object? And we must remember, the National Education Association, to which many public school teachers belong, has long made public statements on a number of highly controversial issues including homosexuality. So, it's really just conservative teachers who are expected to self-censor even in their private lives. But, despite the wishes of public school administrators, teachers in public schools retain the full complement of civil rights, including speech rights. Not even the objections of parents and students can abrogate this central civil right. Free speech does not come with guarantees of agreement. It's messy.

The right of employers to shape or circumscribe faculty speech ends at the schoolhouse door, with the exception, of course, of slanderous, libelous, or defamatory speech directed at the school or school personnel. How meaningless, hollow, and hypocritical it is for educators to teach students about the importance of civic engagement and standing firm on principle (like Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr.) even in the face of demands for conformity, and then tell faculty to silence themselves in order to avoid controversy. Is that nothing else but an inappropriate demand for conformity? It's frightening that so many teachers are willing to sacrifice their free speech rights in the service of avoiding controversy for their employer or persecution for themselves. If all public school employees capitulate, then the bullies have won. All the intolerant bullies need to do is generate controversy, and conservatives self-censor. We as Christians have a number of role models including Paul who did not did not allow the prospect of controversy or the threat of persecution determine the contexts in which he spoke or the content of his speech.

Administrations express concern about the effect of teacher comments made outside of work on students in class, focusing exclusively on student discomfort. Teachers must understand that the presence of student discomfort does not mean that something wrong or inappropriate has been done. If student discomfort is allowed to determine what is said in school, teachers will be prevented from expressing disapproval of a host of behaviors including drug use, alcohol use, aggression, or promiscuity because some kids will feel uncomfortable. But even more problematic is the fact that teachers are now expected to refrain from making moral statements outside of their workplace.

Moreover, student comfort is not the only consideration of import within the academic setting. There are other values of even greater importance that must be considered. First, students need to see that the First Amendment right of free speech is truly valued within academia. Second, conservative students too need role models; they need to see that men and women of compassion, intelligence, and courage participate vigorously in the thorny task of shaping our culture, and do so even in the face of personal and professional persecution. And third, liberal students and homosexual students need to see that those who espouse traditional views really don't hate. How can any of these goals be achieved, if everyone capitulates in order to avoid controversy. I am not recommending that anyone generate controversy just for the sake of controversy. I am suggesting that we all speak the truth boldly in order to please God and help "hold back the effects of the fall."

Sexual orientation and sexual identity are topics that cannot be discussed without generating controversy.

What will the cultural and political climate be for our children and grandchildren in a decade or two if all conservatives decline from engaging in public dialogue because doing so generates controversy? No more letters to the editor, no more radio or television interviews, no more public protests or petitions -- that's the goal. One of the goals of homosexualists is to render it impossible for conservative views to be spoken; and all manner of rhetorical manipulation and bullying tactics will be used to achieve that malevolent end. Don't misunderstand, I don't think all administrators are malevolent or even minimally aware of the spiritual battle in which they are unwitting participants, but Christians are aware of it. What we desperately need are gracious, intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, faithful, wise servants who will speak the truth in love and stand firm in the face of persecution.

What today are considered legitimate topics for public debate may tomorrow be considered highly controversial. Just thirty years ago, it would have been unimaginable that statements of disapproval of homosexuality would be considered controversial. And it would have been unimaginable that a public school teacher would be expected to abstain from making those statements publicly in their free time. What if in a decade abortion, or euthanasia, or cloning are as controversial as sexual orientation is today? Imagine that some years hence, it is controversial to claim that salvation comes exclusively through Jesus Christ. Already many find that to be a highly objectionable claim. Will Christians then refrain from making public statements about their belief in the exclusivity of Christ's claims? Will Christians agree never to comment on a blog, be interviewed by a print or broadcast journalist, or write a letter to the editor? And most importantly, does a steadfast refusal to speak the truth please God?

Laurie Higgins
Laurie is a public school teacher and writer who practices what she preaches...