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Anti-gay Facebook postings: The free-speech rights of a teacher

August 19, 2011 | 12:36 pm

Gay marriage Teachers are certainly entitled to their opinions about homosexuality and gay marriage. But are they entitled to hold forth on those opinions on Facebook and other social media? The Orlando Sentinel reports on a Florida teacher who has been reassigned while administrators consider what to do about his anti-gay comments on Facebook.

At one point, high school social studies teacher Jerry Buell wrote on his personal Facebook page, rather inelegantly, that he felt sickened by the news about same-sex marriage being allowed in New York; he also said it was a sin and part of a "cesspool."

Buell and I couldn't be further apart in our personal views of same-sex marriage. But then, that's the point. It's his personal view, expressed on his personal page, on his personal time. If he used school equipment, time or software to express those views, he certainly would have it coming.

But it's problematic when schools -- and just about any other employer -- feel they should own their employees and dictate their behavior 24/7. It could be argued that Buell's comments might make gay and lesbian students uncomfortable in his class. In truth, high school students know quite well that many of their teachers are likely to hold radically different opinions from theirs. We should get beyond the idea that teenagers have to be "comfortable" at all times, as long as they're not being bullied.

Of course, Buell should face harsh discipline if he criticized gay and lesbian students in his classroom or in the school hallways. And his use of Facebook to promote his ideas -- despite district guidelines that call for cautious use of social media -- indicates a lack of tact and savvy. Far worse, though, is the lesson inherent in this action: that a person can't have a publicly expressed opinion on his or her own time.

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--Karin Klein

Photo: A sign on a motorcycle during the New York City gay pride march June 26, 2011. Credit: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

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