Catholic student wins free speech case in Michigan

by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 6/25/13, 03:34 pm

Last week, a federal district court in Michigan ruled in favor of a student disciplined for expressing views against homosexuality. Judge Patrick Duggan assessed damages at $1, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“This case highlights a tension that exists between public school anti-bullying policies and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” read the ruling. The opinion determined that the student was not impinging on the rights of any other student by stating his opinion, and referenced an earlier ruling, which found “people do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or for that matter their way of life.”

The situation arose on Oct. 10, 2010, according to a report from The Daily Caller, when schools across the country recognized Anti-Bullying Day. Many teachers and students at Howell High School in Howell, Mich., wore purple shirts in honor of the day. Others wore rainbow shirts. Economics teacher Johnson “Jay” McDowell wore a purple shirt that said “Tyler’s Army,” in honor of Tyler Clementi, a homosexual college student who had committed suicide a few months earlier.

At the beginning of McDowell’s sixth hour economics class, a student walked in wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle, and McDowell asked her to remove it. Junior Daniel Glowacki “calmly raised his hand,” according to the opinion, and asked why the student couldn’t wear the Confederate belt buckle, but other students could wear rainbow flags. McDowell said the symbolism was different—Confederate flags symbolized discrimination against blacks. Glowacki responded that the rainbow flag could display discrimination against Catholics, explaining he didn’t “accept gays.”

When McDowell told him he wasn’t allowed to say that in the classroom, Glowacki clarified, “I don’t accept gays because I’m Catholic.”

McDowell pressed the issue further, and Glowacki refused to take back what he’d said. The teacher “became emotional,” threw Glowacki out of the classroom, and wrote up a referral for unacceptable behavior. At that point, another student expressed the same opinion and asked to leave, which McDowell allowed. After the two students left, the remaining students asked why McDowell had thrown them out, and why they didn’t have free speech.

The school district conducted an investigation and expunged the incident from Glowacki’s record. School officials assigned him to a new economics class for the rest of the year.

The school district reprimanded McDowell, saying he displayed a “serious lack of professionalism.” It pointed out the irony of McDowell’s inappropriate punishing of a student for an opinion he disagreed with on Anti-Bullying Day. The reprimand said the teacher “disciplined them in anger under the guise of harassment and bullying because you opposed their religious belief and were offended by it. The students were causing no disruption to the educational process.”

Glowacki graduated in 2012.

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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