Sunday, September 4, 2011

God's Truth in Public Schools?

First Amendment rights on the internet have been controversial with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter since cyber-bullying began. Many parents worry what their kids are blogging and posting about, and to whom they are sending their messages to. Today, not only do the members of the new generation use these sites, so do adults, including Jerry Buell, a Florida public school teacher in the Lake County School District.

When the state of New York legalized gay marriage, Buell, posted a comment on facebook about the new legalization. He described gay unions as cesspools, and continued to say that these marriages made him want to throw up. Once his postings had been discovered, the high school teacher was suspended while the school district conducted an investigation. One might make a point to say that it was freedom of speech online, not in the classroom where he would be pushing his ideals on to his students, but that point can't be made in this case. During the investigation it was also found that in Buell's class syllabus he issues a warning. This warning reads, "I teach God's truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, 'cause I ain't changing!" In addition to handing out this message, he posts on his school webpage as well saying that he tries to "teach and lead my students as if Lake Co. School had hired Jesus Christ Himself." After reading the syllabus and looking at his school webpage, if Buell’s religious beliefs are still unclear, students can just glance around the room. Buell also hangs Bible verses and a picture of Jesus Christ by the clock, according to former students.

Speaking up for his passionate beliefs at a rally by Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm and ministry that provides legal assistance on religious freedom, specifically Christian religious liberty, Buell showed no remorse for his actions and feels his First Amendment rights are being violatd. Addressing the crowd of gatherers Buell said, "I'm a social studies teacher, and I knew what the heck I was doing. There's a thing in this country called the First Amendment, I firmly believe in the right to express my opinions passionately."

Reading this you may be confused as to how this man has gotten along in his teaching career. Not only has he been teaching this way, but he has also been named teacher of the year, to me this was surprising. Despite his award, there are accusations that Buell has in the past made anti-gay comments in the presence of students during class. With all of his negative connotations in all his years of teachings, it could be possible that Beull has overstepped his authority with an innumerable amount of students.

Of course no one would disagree with the First Amendment, but I personally believe that this teacher has taken it too far. Students should feel comfortable with their teachers, not frightened and discouraged by them. He has imposed his religious beliefs on his students, instead of creating a neutral environment for which they feel safe. I would agree that Beull was practicing freedom of speech when he made his posts on facebook, but his First Amendment rights have not been violated. If anything, he has violated his students’ by making slanderous comments and pressing his beliefs. Unfortunately, we do not know for sure what goes on behind Buell’s closed classroom door and that is potentially dangerous for any high school student who may be gay or have a firm belief opposite of their teacher's. There are many issue that are borderline when it comes to religions’ presence in public school environments, but in this case, Beull has gone far over the line.


Harry R. said...

While I agree with Elena that Mr. Buell's First Amendment right to freedom of speech does not grant him free reign in the classroom, I do not feel that all of Mr. Buell's actions are equally inappropriate. Mr. Buell's statements made on his Facebook page do not seem to affect his students. Unless he directed his students to read his Facebook page, such statements made online should not be punished in connection with his school. Even so, the prominence of images of religious beliefs in the classroom imposes much more severely and inappropriately upon his students' classroom experience.

Zoey Goldnick said...

I strongly agree that the presence of religious images in the classroom and the references to preaching God's word is completely inappropriate. His statement, "I teach God's truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, 'cause I ain't changing," would make most students weary of expressing an opinion in opposition to his. In my opinion, this infringes on the student's right to feel comfortable in expressing his own views in the classroom.

In regards to Mr. Buell's facebook page, I believe he should be entitled to freedom of expression, even as a teacher. However, I think it is important that he is writing this page as a citizen, not an educator. If he is friends with his students on facebook, I believe he should need to block these type of comments from them. I think of a gay student who reads his post and is now scared to voice his opinion. He is entitled to free speech but not at the expense of his students right to be themselves in the classroom.

Chris R. said...

I most definitely agree with Harry in his analysis of the situation. An educator's personal and private lives must be kept separate. What is written on this teacher's facebook page cannot be used as grounds for his suspension. However, if the reports of his activities in a public school classroom are true, then he should certainly be dismissed. If this teacher were a Muslim acting in this way, there would most likely be no debate over this topic. We would jump to the conclusion that this situation is inappropriate and uncomfortable for the children. A Christian teacher should receive no added priveleges.