Just a few minutes ago, I received a email from the Human Rights Campaign to sign a petition to have some sort of action taken against a teacher in New Jersey. I guess the teacher posted a bunch of anti gay comments on her Facebook page. And my internal answer to them was no way in hell will I sign a petition to stop free speech.
Whether we agree or not with what this teacher was saying, she has the right to say it. It is in the First Amendment, the freedom of speech. As far as I could read, she did not direct it at any one person and commit slander. She did not incite anyone to cause violence, and there is no clear and present danger to what she is saying.
I am glad the ACLU see's it my way. The woman has freedom to say what she thinks. But the counter point some people are making, is that she is a teacher and a role-model by the fact that she is a teacher and should not keep her job because of what she said. I find this ridiculous. It suggests that only certain people can have free speech and if you want to have free speech, you need to choose a career which will allow it. I also disagree that you are a role-model just because you are a teacher.
I try to teach my students that democracy and freedom are difficult concepts for people to fully understand. If you are to practice democracy with civil liberties such as freedom of speech, one needs to accept the fact that not everyone will share your thoughts, feelings and desires. Democracy is all about allowing diverging opinions to come forth and create a space for differing opinions. The better opinions and ideas win out the debate and is what becomes policy and law. It the called the Marketplace of Ideas. And democracy, any democracy, needs a marketplace of ideas to function. There needs to be debate.
Freedom is hard work. To ensure we have the right to say what we feel and think, we need to give others the right. And times, the freedom of speech will be uncomfortable, like in NJ and this school system. Sometimes it will be scary or painful. But it is the right of Americans and a right we need to hold fast to. It is so easy for the government or any group to try to take your freedom of speech away. Do you know that if you are a minor in this country, you really do not have the freedom of speech? Well, that is what the Supreme Court has said when they rule in favor of schools suspending or expelling high school students for speaking their mind. Check out Morse Vs. Fredrick (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/06-278.ZS.html).
Therefore, as citizens, we need to be vigilant and say no to others who want to stifle free speech. Even if it means saying no to an organization you usually support and allowing speech you abhor. And you should not fear losing your job because of what you say, regardless of how many students may look to you as a role-model. Yet, I am pretty sure her anti-gay sentiment has not made her a favorite teacher and now she has made herself an enemy of an entire segment of the student population.
Please remember the freedom to say what you think without dire consequences by the government or other powerful organizations is what people in other countries across the world fight for daily. We should feel relieved if the NJ teacher does not lose her job. Because who knows when the wind will change and people are unpredictable. What you say tomorrow can be viewed as anti something and people across the country maybe calling for you to be arrested/lose your job. I would only hope there will be vigilant people who will fight for your right to speak.