Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Teacher strongly criticized for criticizing gay marriage

Jerry Buell is back in the classroom, as he should be. Or, perhaps, shouldn't be. Buell, 54, a devout Baptist, family man and veteran teacher of American history at public Mount Dora High School in central Florida, might as well be the faculty heavy in an episode of Glee: this summer, he set off a national First Amendment fracas by announcing on Facebook that gay marriage is a "cesspool" that makes him vomit and mocks God. Buell's employer, the Lake County School District, removed him from the classroom last week for the first three days of the new school year, pending an investigation of the Facebook comments, then reinstated him on Aug. 25 presumably because it realized his speech in this case was protected. But though he prevailed, his rant may backfire socially by helping to plant homophobia more firmly alongside racism and sexism on the nation's roster of hate speech.

By most accounts, Buell is a good teacher — Mount Dora's 2010–11 teacher of the year, in fact. But while watching a report last month on New York State's recent legalization of gay marriage, he posted a diatribe on his personal Facebook page: "I almost threw up ... Now they showed two guys kissing. If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don't insult a man and woman's marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool... God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable?"

Lake County Schools found Buell's remarks unacceptable. It launched an investigation into whether he violated the district's ethics code and compromised students' safe and unprejudiced learning environment — and whether as a public schoolteacher he breached separation of church and state by, among other things, writing on his class syllabi, "I teach God's truth. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, 'cause I ain't changing!" (Buell's lawyer, Harry Mihet of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, denies any church-state violation: "It's teaching God's truth," he says, "that the earth is round or that 2 + 2 = 4.")


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