Once Again, I Don’t Support the Dismissal of an Anti-Gay Teacher

I feel like I just posted about this… but it’s happened again.

A Christian teacher at a public high school wrote about her anti-gay-rights bigotry on Facebook and people are calling for her to be fired.

When Jerry Buell did it, I defended him and argued that he had every right to say what he wanted… outside the classroom. For some reason, a lot of commenters here weren’t happy with that position. However, if we want to go after teachers who privately hold unpopular — and, in this case, reprehensible — views, then we have to brace ourselves for Christian groups who want to target openly atheist teachers as well.

When the evidence later showed that Buell preached his Christianity in the classroom, I supported his suspension. This was someone who clearly had no clue how to keep his private beliefs out of the classroom. He deserved to be punished (or fired) for that.

Now, Viki Knox, a public school teacher in New Jersey, is guilty of basically the same thing.

The teacher, Viki Knox, posted a photo of a display from the school, Union High School in Union Township, on her personal Facebook page last week. It included photos of Virginia Woolf, Harvey Milk and Neil Patrick Harris. When a friend asked if the school had really put it up, Ms. Knox wrote that it had, and “I’m pitching a fit!”

In subsequent posts, Ms. Knox, who teaches special education classes, defended her views in lengthy exchanges with other Facebook users, referring at times to God and her Christian beliefs. A copy of the comments was provided to The New York Times; her Facebook page was removed from public view…

In her Facebook posts, Ms. Knox wrote that while she had friends and loved ones who were gay, she believed that the way they lived was “against the nature and character of God” and that the high school was “not the setting to promote, encourage, support and foster homosexuality.”

You can see the entirety of her Facebook statements here (PDF).

When I heard this story, my first thought — once again — was: Who. Cares.

My second thought was: Why don’t any of these teachers know how to work the Facebook privacy settings? (Followed quickly by, Oh, right… no one ever knows.)

The only concern we should have is whether her bigotry followed her into the classroom. If it did, she deserves to be suspended or fired. If not, everyone needs to lay off.

That thinking didn’t permeate the offices of one civil rights group:

Members of Garden State Equality, a statewide civil rights organization that advocates gay rights, sent hundreds of e-mails and made phone calls to the district on Thursday demanding that Ms. Knox be dismissed because of her comments.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of the group, said, “If these Facebook posts are from Ms. Knox, she should not be teaching our children in public schools.”

No. No. No. She has every right to teach in the public schools. Just like I have every right to teach in one despite believing that Mormons, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Jains, you-name-the-faith, etc. all hold a lot of bullshit beliefs.

The only question we ought to be asking is how this teacher treats gay students. Does she treat them differently from her straight ones? If gay students were getting bullied, would she do everything in her power to stop it from happening? (For what it’s worth, I treat my students the same regardless of their beliefs, atheists don’t get extra credit for sharing my views, and if I saw a student saying something derogatory about other students because of their faith or lack of it, that student would face my wrath.)

If you believe Knox shouldn’t be teaching in a public school, then you’re essentially saying no evangelical Christian should be allowed to work in one, either, because they all hold similar beliefs in regards to homosexuality. They may not all be dumb enough to post their bigotry online for the world to see… but it’s not like they’re any more “tolerant” of homosexuality. Should they be fired, too?

In case you’re wondering, the ACLU supports Knox, barring any damning evidence of her treatment of gay students in the school:

Edward Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey, said in a statement, “Although we do not agree with the sentiments expressed on Ms. Knox’s personal Facebook page, her beliefs and comments are protected by the First Amendment.”

But Mr. Barocas added, “Because her postings raised questions about her conduct within school, the school district can and should investigate whether she is performing her job in accordance with school policies and the state’s Law Against Discrimination.”

Good. That’s the perfect response.

You all know I will fight to defend LGBT students, especially in a high school setting. I know how much crap they have to deal with on a regular basis, and I’ll do anything I can to stop the bullying. I’m proud to wear a ribbon/button on the Day of Silence. If my school ever needed a Gay/Straight Alliance sponsor, I’d immediately sign up.

But I also believe people have a right to hold whatever wacky/irrational/harmful beliefs they want.

Just because you’re a public school teacher doesn’t mean you give up your rights to hold controversial opinions. All that should matter are things like how you do your job in the classroom, how you treat the students, how you contribute to your school’s climate, etc.

It’s entirely possible to be a great Science teacher despite going to an Creationism-endorsing evangelical Christian church on a Sunday. It’s entirely possible to be an excellent Health teacher who speaks out against abortions in her free time. It’s entirely possible to be a fantastic Government teacher who believes President Obama was born in Kenya.

It’s entirely possible to be a Math teacher (who tries really hard to do a good job) who blogs about atheism in his spare time.

This editorial from yesterday’s Star-Ledger in New Jersey has it completely wrong:

While we all should be allowed an inner circle with whom we can speak freely, Knox gave up those protections when she posted her comments on the most public forum there is — the internet. She created a fearful, hostile environment for students. That’s unacceptable.

Knox has the right to a hateful view, but once her beliefs are made public, she doesn’t have the right to a taxpayer-funded, $70,688-a-year job in which she is expected to treat all students equally and with respect. She should absorb the harshest action possible, suspension or firing.

Knox is wrong. As a teacher, she must have tolerance. No student should be the target of prejudice by any school employees, especially teachers.

What irresponsible things to say. Everything I just put in bold in the editorial above — every one of those statements — is unsubstantiated. As of now, we haven’t heard from a single gay student who says Knox treated him with anything but respect and compassion.

Just because you are open about your beliefs in your private life (even on a public forum) shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to go after you at a public school — assuming you’re not mixing the two worlds. If you cross that line, then we have problems.

So for now, I can’t support the dismissal of Viki Knox. And you shouldn’t either. Unless we have evidence that she brings her bigotry into the classroom, she has no right to get punished for what she posted on Facebook.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ollie

    I support gay rights, and yes, I agree that this teacher should not be dismissed.  

  • Anon

    “Just because you’re a public school teacher doesn’t mean you give up your rights to hold controversial opinions.”

    True. And by the same principle, a white supremacist should be allowed to teach as well. So long as they don’t bring their racism into the classroom, they have a right to be a racist outside the classroom.

    But be honest, do you really think that black students should just suck it up and not be concerned with having an acknowledged, unapologetic racist teach them and hold authority over them? Of course not.

    You and I both know that there are lots of ways an ideology like racism can influence a person’s decisions and actions without there being unambiguous evidence that they are bringing their racism into the class. You can’t pretend that nice, neat theoretical construct where ideologies can be completely left outside the school door are more “real” than reality itself – and in reality, if you’re a white supremacist, that’s going to influence how you treat black students.

    There’s a difference between belonging to some very broad and general class (Christian, Muslim, Democrat, Republican, atheist, theist, white, black) and holding a specific ideology or even specific belief of the inferiority of some class of people – especially a class of people you have authority and responsibility over.

    Merely being conservative, Christian, Muslim, theist, etc., shouldn’t matter. But believing that the Christians, Muslims, gays, atheists, conservatives, etc. that you have authority over are fundamentally immoral, evil, inferior, disordered, etc., can and should be treated as a legitimate problem. Maybe not a problem deserving of immediate dismissal, but a problem that needs to be addressed.

    You merely being an atheist shouldn’t matter, but if you actively believed and argued (outside class) that theism is a disorder and that theists are inferior people, then that would be legitimate reason for the school to be concerned. It wouldn’t matter if you didn’t actively teach it in class – you’re admitting to thinking that some of your students are inferior as people to others and to yourself. School administrators cannot fulfill their obligation to keep the school safe for all students if they ignore such a situation.

    I’m not saying that this teacher is exactly like a white supremacist. I’m just denying the validity of saying “if it’s not being brought overtly into class, then it doesn’t matter.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      maybe so, but in a country that respects the rule of law you don’t fire people merely on the suspicion of them bringing bigotry into the classroom.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, the “rule of law” says that a company can fire you for pretty much whatever they want, so long as it’s not one of several protected things like race or sex.

        • Anonymous

          And everyone will please note that, in most places around the country, “sexual orientation” is absent from the list of protected classes.

          • Rieux

            Which does not justify firing Viki Knox.

            The sorry state of anti-discrimination law with regard to sexual minorities does not justify immolating the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression.

        • gotlost

          In most places the laws are different with respect to teachers in public schools.  After a certain period of time you must have “just cause” to let a teacher go.  The general theory is that if a teacher can be fired for anything, he/she would teach what’s popular, not necessarily what’s right, to avoid being fired.  In Texas (the only example I know firsthand) after 3 years in a district a teacher is protected.

        • Rieux

          This is not “a company,” this is a school district. Your point is irrelevant.

    • Andrew Poen

      Your point is only valid in the circumstance that they’ve treated children with any sort of disrespect.   

      If they don’t bring it to work with them, there is and should be nothing that we can do about it.   If, however, they pass along bigotry or hatred, and direct or teach it to the children, then I, and everyone else here would have a problem.  But it is fundamentally amoral, regardless of standing, to condemn someone on the basis of their beliefs alone.  

      • bEEarCUB

        Are not Vicki’s actions fundamentally amoral then? Why do the religious always get the slack, even in atheist circles, when they condemn or even discriminate against gays (and supporters) for what they believe? Gay people (and supporters) have lives and beliefs too.

        PS: Vicki made the first infraction here, and I cant accept your argument that it’s amoral to condemn condemnations (but fine to condemn in the first place apparently … iff your talking about gays).

    • Andrew Poen

      Your point is only valid in the circumstance that they’ve treated children with any sort of disrespect.   

      If they don’t bring it to work with them, there is and should be nothing that we can do about it.   If, however, they pass along bigotry or hatred, and direct or teach it to the children, then I, and everyone else here would have a problem.  But it is fundamentally amoral, regardless of standing, to condemn someone on the basis of their beliefs alone.  

    • Anonymous

      Yes, even a white supremacist, disgusting as that is, should be allowed to stay. Even a friggen Nazi should be able to teach classes in a public school in Skokie IL as long as he or she keeps it outside the classroom. Of course, any person who spends a fair amount of their free time in organized opposition to a group of people to whom a student might belong does deserve greater scrutiny to ensure their behavior is separate, but that’s as far as it should go.

      The problem is that everyone has a different opinion on what does and does not constitute an acceptable opinion. Hemant isn’t merely “being an atheist”. He’s an active atheist who very obviously would like to see a world with less religion, considers religious claims laughably wrong, thinks childhood indoctrination is child abuse, and thinks religion is a net drain on society. To a large proportion of Americans, these opinions are as unacceptable as this teachers opinion on homosexuality is to us and would indicate that he may mistreat the religious students, even if there is no evidence of that.

      Investigate by all means, but suspending a teacher without evidence that she did anything on the job that made the atmosphere less safe for her students is a step too far.

      • Estevan Carlos Benson

        Chances are there are already nazis teaching in classrooms and we don’t know about it. To a degree I think it’s good we don’t know because it means it’s likely not causing a problem.

        The point here is that we don’t want to unleash the Thought Police on society and prevent people from having jobs because they have controversial private lives.

    • Anonymous

      “But be honest, do you really think that black students should just suck it up and not be concerned with having an acknowledged, unapologetic racist teach them and hold authority over them? Of course not.”

      Oh, of course that would NEVER happen. There’d be such a shitstorm that the person would not only be fired, s/he’d have to pack up and move out of state, post-haste. But because Ms. Knox is herself a person of color, and the people she’s “calling out” are all deviants in the eyes of her imaginary friend, everyone should look the other way when she “speaks her truth,” which, as we all know, is Eternal Truth™.

      Do I come across as bitter in my posts on this thread? Well, that’s because I am. I’m fucking sick of gays being political and social footballs kicked around from one extremist group to another. I’m sick of reading of gay teenagers killing themselves because of harassment enabled and encouraged by this sorry excuse of a human being and others of her ilk. I’m disgusted by the fact that I can’t be the slightest bit affectionate to my partner (who should be my husband, by all rights, but of course, that’s a perversion of natural law) in public without risking looks of disgust at best and physical violence at worst.

      And why? Because people like Viki Knox, who should know something about oppression, can’t shake off their slavish devotion (pun intended) to their former masters’ religion.

      But maybe that’s the problem. Her ancestors knew oppression, but she doesn’t. So now she’s free to be as abusive to the perverts as “Master” once was to her people. Just like in California in ’08—racial minorities turned out in droves to vote for Obama, while at the same time voting down marriage equality. Perhaps their irony meter was broken that day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    “I know how much crap they have to deal with on a regular bullshit”

    what? You must be really pissed because I think you just wrote “bullshit” instead of “basis”

    LOL

    anyway, I don’t know why people would give you crap for taking this position. Sounds pretty rational to me. I like the ACLU statement. That’s another one I’ll save for later when some religious nutcase calls the ACLU the Anti-Christian Legislation Union. As for know I see no reason to fire her. I’m betting some anti-gay or pro-Christianity garbage will show up in her work after a little digging, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Whoops! Typo. Fixed!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509626665 Melissa Lynn Zator

      Yeah I hate when everyone just assumes the ACLU is anti-christian because they usually deal with separation of church and state issues… but they forget the time they fought for students who posted the 10 commandments on their locker lol

      • Anonymous

        The ACLU actually represented the Westboro Baptist Church in their case against the protest bans at funerals. I admire their absolute dedication to freedom of speech, but I dearly hope they assigned the pack of freaks a butch lesbian lawyer, just to fuck with their heads a bit.

        • Kevin S.

          I’m actually kind of surprised they needed ACLU representation?  Aren’t a couple of them actually ace lawyers?

          • ACN

            They might not be qualified to address the supreme court (I think there is a special exam for this?), they might not be experienced at litigating high level civil rights cases.
            In any case, if the ACLU offers to help you in a civil rights case, I think if you’re serious about winning, you just take the help.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

            Yeah. But they’ve pretty much been disbarred.

        • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

          Most Christians don’t consider the Westboro people to be True Christians™, so anyone calling the ACLU anti-Christian will probably think their defense of Westboro is a way of misrepresenting and diminishing Christianity.

  • NickDB

    Hemant, after all the flack you got last time you did this, I just thought I’d add my voice of support for your position.

    We can’t have 2 sets of rules, 1 for theists and one for us. Just imagine the outcry amongst atheist circles if the teacher had expressed the view that god doesn’t exist on her facebook page and then theists called for her head on a plate.

    (Note I’m not saying that theists wouldn’t be calling for a atheist teachers head, just that if they did they’d be wrong, just like those of us calling for this teachers head, without any evidence of it affecting her teaching)

    1 set of rules for everyone, people.

    • Guest

      I agree and that 1 set of rules should be that teachers are not allowed to publicly criticize their students’ scientifically-accepted inherent human characteristics but they should be allowed to publicly criticize their personal beliefs. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      • John

        Bravo.

      • Anonymous

        Except that many people don’t think that homosexuality is a scientifically-accepted inherent human characteristic, so your system isn’t going to solve all the issues.

        • Guest

          Yes well, those people aren’t scientists so we wouldn’t be asking them anyway.

        • Woody

          Thankfully science and truth are not democratically decided. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

          • Anonymous

            Well the facts, in studies about identical twins, show that if one twin is gay, there is a 60% chance that the other one is too. So that means that roughly 60% of the chance of being gay is due to genetics and development in the womb and 40% is not. The problem is that people want to assume that homosexuality is either entirely a choice or entirely genetic and that doesn’t seem to be the case, given the research.

            • Guest

              Wow. Science really isn’t your thing, is it?

              • Anonymous

                Wow, Science must not be your thing if you just reject what I said without providing any evidence to back up your beliefs. You do realize you have to prove what you say right? You can’t just declare it and expect everyone just to take you on faith.

                • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

                  It goes both ways Hibernia86. You are the one that brought “statistics” into this discussion. How on earth would you control the variables in this data mining poll that was taken to actually prove that it’s genetic. You would have to have the twins split up and have them NOT be raised in the same school, hang out with the same friends, listen to the same music, read the same books, watch the same shows, etc. in order to prove that it’s nature and not nurture. 

                  Nurture has a large influence on how we turn out.

                  I’m not taking either side in this, but I’m saying to make a claim for one side or the other there has to be evidence to support your claim. That is the standard that you are trying to hold the guest commenter to isn’t it?

                • Anonymous

                  http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/17/science/gay-men-in-twin-study.html

                  Here is a study, for example, that finds that 52% of identical twins, 22% of fraternal twins, and 11% of brothers are gay if their brother/twin is gay. While I agree that the best study would be for the identical twins to be raised apart, if the samples are random, then such a large difference in the results strongly suggests that genetics plays a part.

  • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

    I think it depends on the school’s policy concerning semi public (lets not kid ourselves, they are..) social media sites and if any students could see the above exchange. When students hear teachers say things like this I think it makes it a bit more complicated. 

  • Guest

    You place the intellectual freedom of the evangelical over the physical safety of her students. Please stop positioning yourself as an ally to gay kids. It’s insulting to them.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Did she beat up a gay student? Must have missed that news…

      • Guest

        I would expect you to be dismissive of gay students’ safety, so I’m not surprised at this response. When authority figures create a hostile environment for minorities, it encourages bullying and increases the likelihood of  suicide. She doesn’t have to physically strike her students to put them in danger. Don’t be naive.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509626665 Melissa Lynn Zator

          I don’t think he’s being naive, he’s just saying we have no proof that she brought her ideals into the classroom at all. And if you think she creates a harmful environment then Hemant is just as guilty as she is. He’s supporting her because he is a fellow teacher who holds unpopular beliefs and so long as they stay outside the classroom then there is no problem with having them. 

          • Anonymous

            Well, I feel safe in saying that no straight person could have ANY IDEA how hostile an environment a public school can be for a gay adolescent. To think that teachers’ beliefs and presuppositions doesn’t filter down in subtle ways is being willfully ignorant.

            It’s always an easy test in these situations to replace “gay” with “black” and see how easily it changes EVERYTHING. Race trumps all else, and it seems a good many people of color just can’t imagine that they could ever discriminate while simultaneously being the vilest of bigots.

            • Subterminal

              You don’t think people like us know? Seeing our friends get harassed and insulted every damn day till the point of suicide? Trying to defend them just getting you the same treatment as them? Believe me, some of us know. But we can’t persecute thought crimes, and the right to free speech also protects bigotry.Hemant knows that he is a teacher with an unpopular view who shares it outside the classroom, and if he condemned this woman, he would be a hypocrite.

              • Anonymous

                While I do appreciate your defense, it bears stating that you CAN’T know what being “harassed and insulted every damn day till the point of suicide” is like, unless you have yourself come close to suicide as a result of it. I’ve been near that point—though for reasons not related to my being gay—and unless you’ve been there, AND for the specific reason noted? Sorry, but you can’t know.
                Just as a former coworker of mine, who marched in the Civil Rights Movement, could certainly empathize with her black brothers and sisters; however, she, as a white woman, could never really know their struggle from the inside. Empathy can only take one so far.

                • Nexus

                  I guess I should tell everyone here that they can’t POSSIBLY know what it’s like to be persecuted by a Christian because my uncle works for Pat Robertson and I have 4 pastors in my family. Their empathy only takes them so far. Right?

                  No. We don’t diminish other people’s views because they can’t 100% sympathize with someone that has been through a tragedy. That sort of expectation is not only unreasonable but dismantles well-reasoned and thoughtful debate.

                • Anonymous

                  You seem to miss my point about the persecution leading to SUICIDAL thoughts and behavior. And there are adolescents involved here, who are already vulnerable and overwhelmed, even without the added stressor of being gay. That’s a bit of a game-changer in my book.

                  Did your family’s religious mania take you to that point? If so, I apologize.

                  But then again, what would I know? I’m just some oversensitive atheist fag trying to suppress a righteous Christian warrior for God, right?

                • Subterminal

                  Yes, as posters on an atheist website defending atheist viewpoints must be “Christian Warriors”. Don’t use the hitler argument, that was basically another form of it. I have been driven to suicidal thoughts before, I’ve dealt with depression all my life and being “weird” in the eyes of your peers certainly doesn’t help. Don’t judge before you know.

                • Coyotenose

                  I think BinaryStar was referring to the teacher, Viki Knox, not Nexus, when he said “righteous Christian warrior”.

                • Anonymous

                  Correct.

              • Anonymous

                Why do people always want to confuse speech with thought? Once words exit your mouth or get written down in a public forum, that’s *behaviour* not thought.

                There are all kinds of laws limiting speech, and there’s no reason why hate speech can not be against the law just like perjury is. You just have to make a distinction between an unpopular opinion and hate speech. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair.

                • Rieux

                  Why do people always want to confuse speech with thought? Once words exit your mouth or get written down in a public forum, that’s *behaviour* not thought.

                  Er, indeed… and both are protected by basic human rights. Good luck protecting the freedom of conscience without the freedom of expression.

                  Hell, by the “that’s *behavior* not thought” logic, what’s the problem with any restriction on speech whatsoever?

                  Like it or not (I’m afraid I do), human-rights law has made a distinction between speech and other “behavior” for centuries.

                  There are all kinds of laws limiting speech….

                  Sure—and the legitimate ones have direct justifications in the harm that the proscribed speech directly inflicts: defamation, perjury, time-place-manner restrictions, you name it. Muzzling someone’s political (or religious) speech on the grounds that you don’t like it is simply not the same thing, and it simply is not enough to overcome the basic human right that you treat so cavalierly.

                  [T]here’s no reason why hate speech can not be against the law just like perjury is.

                  Actually, there are several such “reasons,” among them (within the nation in which the incidents in question took place) the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Declaring a particular viewpoint “hateful” and therefore unlawful to express is directly contrary to the First Amendment, and indeed to the basic human right it codifies.

                  You just have to make a distinction between an unpopular opinion and hate speech.

                  Oh, well then. How could that possibly go wrong?

                  I fail to see how that “distinction” can be drawn at all, given that “hate speech” is just another name for speech that is deeply (and sometimes even justifiably) unpopular. It provides the governing authority with the power to declare, on entirely arbitrary grounds, that some ideas are “hateful” and therefore illegal, while others are simply “unpopular.” How could that rubric possibly be prevented from allowing the tyranny of the majority to silence every view it doesn’t like?

                  Give American governments the power to criminalize speech based on content, and you are writing the death warrant for overt expression of atheism, religious criticism, support for gay rights, and just about any other left-identified cause you can imagine.

                  That’s an awfully high price to pay just to allow you to punish a religious loon whose speech you don’t like.

              • Guest

                Being complicit in restricting your own freedoms to protect the freedoms of others is only hypocrisy if you believe that acting selflessly is hypocritical.  

                For not being religious, many of you who are defending Hemant have an almost evangelical deference to the concept of free speech and accept the law as currently interpreted as being above reproach. It’s all fine and good to talk about what is and is not legal, but far too few of you are talking about what SHOULD and SHOULD NOT be legal. The law is supposed to serve us, not the other way around.

        • Coyotenose

          “I would expect you to be dismissive of gay students’ safety, so I’m not surprised at this response.”

          You don’t appear to be at all familiar with this blog then.

          • Guest

            You mean the blog where he repeatedly publicly defends teachers  who violate the law before the facts are known and then quietly retracts later? The one where he implies that the only responsibility a teacher has to protect a student is to not physically strike them herself? The one where he thinks a teacher should be able to befriend his students on Facebook and send them homophobic messages outside of class? 

            When free speech and gay rights are placed on the same scale, Hemant consistently weighs in favor of free speech. I do not believe that anyone familiar with this blog could argue otherwise. Or, you know, you could just look at the comment I referred to as dismissive. Because it is. 

            • Aaron Foster

              Aren’t you the one who is jumping to conclusions that the teacher DID do something that was illegal?  We have the whole concept of innocent until proven guilty and that is the stance that Hemant takes and it’s one I can greatly appreciate.

              We can’t just assume, because the victim’s views are on our side, that they are the ones who are right.  We have the responsibility to make sure all the facts are in before we do any jumping.

              Also please cite your example of a teacher friending a student on Facebook then harassing them with homophobic messages.

              • Guest

                This post is the example. Read all the comments.  Hemant says that his only concern in that scenario is whether or not it is against district policy.

                Oh and he might be curious as to the contents of the message.

            • Jesse

              Er, could you link to one of  “quiet retractions” you mention?  Especially since this particular post of Hemant’s made prominent and repeated mention of the retraction that he made over the other anti-gay teacher.  Have there been multiple other retractions that I missed?  Did Hemant remove them from his archive after posting them?  Or, are you just making claims that you can’t back up?

              (It should be noted, I’m not disagreeing with the rest of your post, just the part about “quiet retractions”.)

              • Guest

                Sure. I think the Buell case linked above is the best example of a quiet retraction. Hemant links it himself as you noted, so I’m just going to direct you upwards.

      • Anthony Okafor

        she already had one removed from her classroom

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    I think it’s important to remember that whenever a gay teacher is outed, they’re often removed from teaching. Just for being gay. A lot of parents won’t allow a school to use a gay teacher to teach their kids. 

    Plus a school is still not supposed to be a free speech zone. Facebook, yes. But again, a lot of parents really care a lot about what their kids are exposed to while physically in school.  You can’t just say anything you want while in a public school, and that really is for the best. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    I think it’s important to remember that whenever a gay teacher is outed, they’re often removed from teaching. Just for being gay. A lot of parents won’t allow a school to use a gay teacher to teach their kids. 

    Plus a school is still not supposed to be a free speech zone. Facebook, yes. But again, a lot of parents really care a lot about what their kids are exposed to while physically in school.  You can’t just say anything you want while in a public school, and that really is for the best. 

    • Rieux

      I think it’s important to remember that whenever a gay teacher is outed, they’re often removed from teaching. Just for being gay.

      In many places, thankfully, that is illegal. It should be that way in many more places; anti-gay employment discrimination should be against federal law, and efforts have long been underway to make it so.

      That problem doesn’t justify punishing public employees who merely hold anti-gay beliefs, though. That second wrong doesn’t come close to making a right.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      Please cite once where a teacher was fired for being gay. I won’t say that it’s ever happened, but I just recall such an incident.

      Education is a different creature than other jobs it seems. I have seen news stories on t.v. and read about them as well where an elementary teacher or two have been fired for their “after hours job” of being a stripper. Part of being a teacher is that you are citizen who contributes to the local community. If I had my classroom in order, but a nuisance of myself in the neighborhoods then my school my actually fire me. I don’t remember the exact phraseology in the bi-laws but its there for my district. 

      I would say this gal, Vicki could possibly be fired for that reasoning if her district has similar wording in their reasons for termination policy.  Most employers will not let you bad mouth them like that either. Do we know if she is tenured or not?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    I think it’s important to remember that whenever a gay teacher is outed, they’re often removed from teaching. Just for being gay. A lot of parents won’t allow a school to use a gay teacher to teach their kids. 

    Plus a school is still not supposed to be a free speech zone. Facebook, yes. But again, a lot of parents really care a lot about what their kids are exposed to while physically in school.  You can’t just say anything you want while in a public school, and that really is for the best. 

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Maybe she should be fired for her bad writing and bad grammar though…

    All kidding aside, I agree that teachers have a right to free speech just like anyone else for what they say outside the classroom. The people who say she can’t talk about her religion in public are clearly wrong. However, I think she is dangerously blurring the line here:

    UHS is not the setting to promote, encourage, support, and foster homosexuality.

    This can easily be interpreted as her wanting to take her beliefs into the school. Of course it could only be her opinion about what her school should do, and an opinion that she doesn’t plan on actually taking any action on, but considering she says she’s “pitching a fit”…

    By the way, discussing the history of the LGBT movement is not the same as “promoting homosexuality” – but I don’t expect her to understand the difference.

    • Anonymous

      That particular line stood out for me, too.  Not one of those 4 words could be used to describe that bulletin board.  I don’t see “BE HOMOSEXUAL” anywhere on there.  But you’ll never convince her otherwise.  She is stuck in her religion-induced coma of ignorance.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

        Don’t you guys know? Merely acknowledging the existence of LGBT people is “promoting homosexuality”!

        (at least according to wingnuts like Viki Knox.)

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

        Don’t you guys know? Merely acknowledging the existence of LGBT people is “promoting homosexuality”!

        (at least according to wingnuts like Viki Knox.)

  • http://narcissisticclaptrap.blogspot.com/ narcissistic.claptrap

    I can’t state how strongly I agree with you.  One of the best teachers I ever had was my 7th grade science teacher.  He is the man who taught me about evolution for the first time, and his classes were inspiring enough that I ended up making evolutionary biology the focus of my graduate education.

    It wasn’t until years later, when I met him outside of the school environment, that I learned he was a Jehovah’s Witness and had been since he was a teen.  I don’t think there was a single political point that the two of us could see eye to eye on, but he is still an utterly fantastic educator.  Neither I nor any of my other classmates can recall a single instant when his personal religious views of evolution entered the classroom setting.

    My own job in the non-profit world requires me to remain neutral on the topic of religion when dealing with a predominantly Christian donor base.  If I were ever fired from this job due to my atheism, you can bet your bippy I would be retaining counsel in a heartbeat.

    • Anonymous

      Although I appreciate the intent of your anecdote, I think what you fail to realize is that Jehovah’s Witness are (1) a somewhat disparaged minority within Christendom, so they’re less likely to push their beliefs in the workplace (although, I’ll concede, they obviously have no such reticence when doing so door-to-door); and (2) they, as a condition of their faith, don’t involve themselves in politics (to their great credit, in my eyes), and today’s politics—as we all know—is inextricably tied to social issues in this post-Lee Atwater/Karl Rove electoral landscape. That being the case, I would imagine that your teacher was far less likely to make statements even remotely similar to those of Ms. Knox.

      Further, your job doesn’t appear to be one in which you wield any authority over the donor base. I would imagine that your approach is much more one in which THEY have the power, as you’re soliciting donations from them, and that sort of situation usually isn’t helped by an attitude of superiority on your part. You would quite understandably be in a position to sue for wrongful termination should you be fired for your atheist beliefs.

      • http://narcissisticclaptrap.blogspot.com/ narcissistic.claptrap

        In my  opinion, regardless of the power dynamics, if the conduct in the workplace is appropriate (as deemed by law and the expectations of the employer), then there are no grounds for termination.  Someone further downstream has provided some Facebook quotes that in which this teacher admits to proselytizing in the workplace, which would put me firmly in the “disciplinary action” camp.  

        Having said that, I still agree wholeheartedly with the original post – there needs to be a clear and constant division between our expectations of workplace conduct and a person’s right to hold whatever egregious opinions s/he desires.

  • Anonymous

    Do you really think that there’s no standard of conduct that public employees can be held to, as long as their behavior outside of the workplace is legal? Private business certainly doesn’t operate this way, and I think it’s good that it doesn’t. I believe that for moral progress to be made, social and yes, employment consequences, have to be attached to immoral behavior.

    I think where we draw the lines, and how we draw those lines fairly and consistently, is difficult question to answer. You seem to think that the only line that is relevant is an inside-the-workplace/outside-the-workplace distinction… but that’s not true of any workplace except government ones.

    And I do take issue with you saying that “No student should be the target of prejudice by any school employees, especially teachers” is unsubstantiated. She did target all of gay people with her remarks, including her students… and she is a teacher. Where it happened isn’t relevant.

    • Peggin

      “I believe that for moral progress to be made, social and yes, employment consequences, have to be attached to immoral behavior.”

      But how do you define “immoral behavior” and who decides? Is the fact that I don’t go to church and will openly tell anyone who asks that I’m an atheist “immoral behavior”? Now, I certainly believe the answer to that question in “no”, but I have no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of people who would say that is IS immoral.

      Should my employer have the right to fire me for my lack of belief? Even if it has NO effect on my performance in the workplace? I don’t think they should have that right, not with regards to me and my atheistic beliefs, and not with regards to an anti-Semite, a racist, a homophobe, a birther, or any other set of beliefs some people might find unpopular.

      Especially as an atheist, which polls have indicated is the least
      trusted minority group in the United States, I am very wary of any
      policy that would allow an employer to fire someone just for holding an
      unpopular belief. The beliefs I hold and openly discuss outside of my workplace should not give my employer any grounds to dismiss or reprimand me until/unless those beliefs affect my job performance. So, if Ms. Knox’s beliefs did not affect her job performance, then I do not believe she should lose her job because of them.

    • Rieux

      Where it happened isn’t relevant.

      Except that, legally, it very much is relevant. Public school teachers have much greater rights to free expression outside of school than they have inside it.

      The rights to free speech, free press, freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances, and so on are invariably inconvenient for those who disagree with the content of the ideas being expressed or petitioned for. It is nonetheless vital to a free and open society.

      If you seriously think the standard you are arguing for would impact homophobes more than it would far more despised minorities, you’re simply not paying attention. The very first victims of the notion that “public employees can be held to” an arbitrary ideological “standard of conduct,” notwithstanding the First Amendment, would be GLBTs and atheists. (And very likely anti-war protesters, and Pagans, and outspoken liberals generally.)

      Take away First Amendment protections along the lines you suggest, and the first person you would see pink-slipped might well be Hemant Mehta. Thankfully, though, your solution is not one that the U.S. Constitution allows.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Also, got to love this quote from her:

    Students see this and feel comfortable coming outta their closet. Who’s there professionally trained to handle the fall out? And I dont mean protecting them from Christians telling them that God loves you and he created you for more; he created you not to practice homosexuality and I love you too! THATS WHAT I TEACH AND PREACH ma’am! No I’m talking about when the gays bashers, bullies, and mean girls find out who’s really “freaky” in the building! The students already make negative disrespectful comments about teachers they think are gay. I dont allow those conversations in my class but in the halls… UHS admin is barely handling the petty crimes and violence and depressions, behavioral disorders, etc NOW. Lets just happily put marks on these students backs! Fine. No it’s not.

    Don’t you see, she’s just protecting those poor gay kids! You know, from the kids she just taught that being gay means being less.

    • Drew M.

      I agreed with Hemant at first, but now I think she needs to be fired – for incompetence. That grammar is atrocious!

    • Coyotenose

      Thus implicitly admitting that she knows it isn’t a choice…

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      This reminds of a video I saw on Youtube recently:

      Christians and Gay Teen Suicides: “How could anyone be so stupid?”

  • Ronlawhouston

    This is why I support the ACLU.  No matter how ignorant or bigoted you may be, you still have a right to free speech.  Still, I wish the ignorant and bigoted wouldn’t talk so much.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree with your premise that an atheist is equivalent to a bigot.  If the teacher had posted racist commentary on her Facebook account regarding her school’s celebration of Black History Month, for example, would you still argue that her beliefs are “personal” and likely “never enter the classroom?”

    The other reason being atheist is not equivalent to this is that religion has no place in the public classroom, period.  An atheist in the classroom is not depriving anyone of their religious freedoms.  But a bigot who thinks that all gay people are fundamentally unnatural or that black people are fundamentally less intelligent or more violent, etc.,  is going to treat those people differently and has no business being in a classroom.

    • http://fred5.myopenid.com/ fred5

      UHS/Union does a piss poor job
      acknowledging black history, Hispanic history month, great inventors, female artists,
      etc.

      .

      The subtext being that the school’s administration is too racist/sexist to do anything but give lip service to black/hispanic history months, women etc. 

       

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      “An atheist in the classroom is not depriving anyone of their religious freedoms” This is not always true. I’ve seen some rather aggressive people on this website talk about in previous related articles how the teacher basically can’t voice their opinion in the classroom or now out of the classroom. Isn’t this a blog for atheists? And are u not right not trying to say that this teacher can’t voice or spread her beliefs while at school? What about teacher led prayer IF the students are all okay with it? If there is a religious club at school of some sort that students join. If the students asked the teacher to pray isn’t prohibiting the teacher from praying squashing her religious freedom?” Especially when the teacher didn’t initiate it?

  • Tony

    This is a tricky one.  She doesn’t like gay people, well we can’t be prosecuting thought-crimes.  She said so in a public forum, but she has a right to free speech.  Where I think she overstepped the boundary is in posting a photograph from her place of employment in order to express her bigotry.  By doing so she has in effect removed the barrier between her opinion as an independent citizen and her opinion as an employee of that specific corporate entity.

    I think that in the private sector somebody doing the same could be construed as having disparaged the organisation they work for and could be subject to disciplinary proceedings as a result.  If on the other hand she had made a “Gah, at work they’re doing some thing about those icky gays!” status without posting a picture and indicating exactly where “work” was then she’d be fine.

    • Anonymous

      Free speech doesn’t mean there can’t be consequences to her speech. At the minimum it only means that she won’t be thrown in jail over it

      • Rieux

        No. Disciplinary action of any kind initiated by a government entity, as the result of expressive activity, implicates the First Amendment.

        There are various contexts in which one’s right to free expression is significantly curtailed (such as when one is in the process of teaching classes within a public school), but ordinary posting on a Facebook page is not generally one of those.

        If Illinois passed a law stating that anyone promoting atheism was subject to a $1,000 fine, would Hemant have no First Amendment right against prosecution, because the law didn’t contemplate “throw[ing him] in jail over it”?

  • T-Rex

    A good rule to follow when posting stuff to the general public, be it via FB or Twitter, etc., if you wouldn’t want your post as the headline of the New York Times, you probably shouldn’t post it. Or, say it out loud and see how it sounds before you post it. Unless of course you don’t give a fu** about your reputation, then by all means, post whatever you want.

  • Anonymous

    If you believe Knox shouldn’t be teaching in a public school, then you’re essentially saying no evangelical Christian should be allowed to work in one, either, because they all hold similar beliefs in regards to homosexuality.

    Tempting but no.  We should judge people on their actions and not on their thoughts and beliefs.  What Knox deserves is for someone to explain to her how to work Facebook’s security settings.  Her opinions don’t impact on her ability to do her job or on her behaviour in the classroom.  If they did then she should be fired.

    • Michael Appleman

      Its not about her thoughts and beliefs. She expressed her thoughts and beliefs in public. The students at that school will find out her views on gay people. If she has any gay students, those students will probably not feel comfortable with her in a position of authority over them. No one should have to go to a school where your teacher hates what you are. These are emotional, hormonal teenagers we are talking about here, not rational adults.

      • Rieux

        What happens when all of the students who (1) are Christian and (2) have math class with Hemant Mehta happen upon this blog? Will “those students … feel comfortable with [him] in a position of authority over them”?

        Knox has First Amendment rights, including the right to hold, and to express, disgusting anti-gay religious beliefs. If she brings such nonsense into school, that’s misconduct that she can and should be disciplined for. But if not—if she’s just expressing her viewpoint in a public forum—the school has no business punishing her.

        Any other approach simply gives government employers free rein to enforce all-encompassing speech codes on anyone in their employ. It’s not homophobes who will suffer most from the policy you suggest; it’s GLBTs and atheists, among other unpopular minorities.

        • Michael Appleman

          I could be wrong, but I don’t think Hemant has ever said anything like anti-Christian hate speech on this blog.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            He is also not the only blogger that posts to this site. Being a Christian I have seen it and take notice. I did not cite who said it however. It could have been just people commenting in reply but I’m pretty sure that several of the posts (again, not necessarily by Hemant) would be classified as hate speech. This is one reason I find several people’s arguments quite ironic.

            • Parse

              Please point out specific instances of blog entries that you consider hate speech.  I’m talking about the top-level entries, written by Hemant Mehta, Richard Wade, or Jesse Galuf, not any of the comments in response to them.  What you’re doing is using a vague impression – one I believe not to be grounded with evidence – to disregard an opposing viewpoint.

               One issue with an open forum is that you’ll get people with a wide range of viewpoints – both Christians and atheists.  Though there are jerks on both sides, I’m sure you’d prefer us to not judge all Christians by an aggressive, vocal minority.  Please extend to us the same courtesy.

      • Anonymous

        Hopefully the students, parents and administrators will keep an eye on her and wait for her to use her school time to push her hateful Christian agenda.  When or if she does then she may be disciplined for it.  Until then she has as much right to an opinion as anyone else.

        • Michael Appleman

          Agreed.

  • Barrylayfield

    If this teacher had some of her students as “friends” on Facebook, does that constitute bringing her beliefs into the classroom?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      That may violate a district policy, but that’s a separate issue.

      • Guest

        If a teacher is directly messaging her students anti-gay material your only concern is district policy? Incredible. 

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

          I’d be curious what it’s about. Not all communication is scandalous.

          • Guest

            Now you’re just being contrarian for the sake of. This comment barely even makes sense.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

              As does your original point here. None of this story is about whether or not she was friends with her students on Facebook. No one’s accusing her of that. They’re going after her because she posted her thoughts on Facebook, period. Not because she posted it and students who were FB Friends with her might have seen it. It’s irrelevant to the case.

              • Guest

                Speaking on not making any sense, what original point?

              • Barrylayfield

                My point was not that the comments were made on Facebook and some of her students might have been friends.  It’s that my definition of the teacher’s class is a teacher and all her students, but not necessarily the physical location where they are meeting.  If the teacher and all her students were to step outside of the building and she were to tell them her bigoted views, I would consider that to be just as bad as if they were actually in the classroom.  Just my opinion and not legally defensible, I’m sure.  Thanks, Hemant, for all you do.  I really enjoy your blog.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

              As does your original point here. None of this story is about whether or not she was friends with her students on Facebook. No one’s accusing her of that. They’re going after her because she posted her thoughts on Facebook, period. Not because she posted it and students who were FB Friends with her might have seen it. It’s irrelevant to the case.

  • Alex

    Thank you, Hemant. I was waiting for the news to pop up on your blog. I received an e-mail from HRC and was thinking, “no, this ain’t right.” I guess, being an adjunct instructor, when you are so many things outside of the classroom, changes the perspective a little. Provided that she doesn’t bring any of it into her classroom, I think Ms. Knox should be fine.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly support the cause. I would march for equality  should an event take place within 50 miles of me, I donate my money to advance the rights, and will do it again as soon as I pull out of a big financial hole, but this is exactly the point fundies are making from the pulpit: that they are attacked for their beliefs and cannot even say anything wrong about gays. Yes, these views are despicable and worthy of scorn, ridicule, and dismissal — but not silencing.

    Somebody brought up racism. There are plenty of racists around, and we don’t seek to silence them every time they speak. It’s a personal opinion, however hateful, delusional, and disgusting, and can be changed only with arguments and dialogue. Silencing people like that only pushes them underground and makes them even more hateful — this time, for a good reason.

    Also, this is yet another illustration of why people should stay the hell away from Facebook and the like. There’s enough gossip IRL.

  • Alex

    Thank you, Hemant. I was waiting for the news to pop up on your blog. I received an e-mail from HRC and was thinking, “no, this ain’t right.” I guess, being an adjunct instructor, when you are so many things outside of the classroom, changes the perspective a little. Provided that she doesn’t bring any of it into her classroom, I think Ms. Knox should be fine.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly support the cause. I would march for equality  should an event take place within 50 miles of me, I donate my money to advance the rights, and will do it again as soon as I pull out of a big financial hole, but this is exactly the point fundies are making from the pulpit: that they are attacked for their beliefs and cannot even say anything wrong about gays. Yes, these views are despicable and worthy of scorn, ridicule, and dismissal — but not silencing.

    Somebody brought up racism. There are plenty of racists around, and we don’t seek to silence them every time they speak. It’s a personal opinion, however hateful, delusional, and disgusting, and can be changed only with arguments and dialogue. Silencing people like that only pushes them underground and makes them even more hateful — this time, for a good reason.

    Also, this is yet another illustration of why people should stay the hell away from Facebook and the like. There’s enough gossip IRL.

  • GentleGiant

    I think the damning proof comes from her own mouth (fingers?):

    Now you are a blood relation so you have every right to speak on your uncle’s behalf and do him proud for his support and encouragement of this display; as well as his disappointment and regret that he asked for me to be moved to his building because I encourage the future generations to seek a relationship with God, to honor their parents and authority, that I pray with and for the future generations situations, that I encourage the future generations to love Godhonor his sacrifice-not to use profanity and their fists-to be accountable and responsible for their actions in their bodies… Please make that call and let’s get it started right. I look forward to this confrontation! Thank you!

    (emphasis mine)
    This is taken from her own FB thread (the one in the pdf link above), concerning someone wanting to contact the principal.
    Sounds like she’s quite active in promoting her viewpoint…

    EDIT:
    She’s just continues in the next post:

    Mission statement?!? Just make the call! I follow the Great Commission Christ gave his followers…to go to ends of the earth baptizing and preaching the Gospel of Christ to every man, woman, boy and girl. Again, service to God is not monetary contributions, weekly attendance to a Mass/CYO, cleaning the rectory/church, etc. All that’s great and needed but do you know the Man Christ Jesus? Now once you’re introduce to Christ NOT THE CHURCH OR PRIEST OR PASTOR OR BOARD OF ELDERS, and you’ve had a nice long courtship/engagement, and you’re ready to be his BRIDE…then remind me again what’s your point for calling my name out because YOU DON’T KNOW ME!

    Courtship/engagement? Bride? Wow…

    • Anonymous

      GentleGiant, I remember your enlightening and incisive posts during the early days of the Jerry Buell debacle, when everyone was bending over backwards to make him the victim, although he’d clearly violated both school and district policy, among other things. Keep up the good work here. I’m sure that a little digging will reveal that this whackjob has violated much more than people’s mere sensibilities, just as in Buell’s case. There is always so much more left out of the picture in these situations. I’m soooo over the poor-Christian-as-victim trope.

      • GentleGiant

        Thank you kindly for the praising words. :-)

    • http://fred5.myopenid.com/ fred5

      I would have thought that the mission statement that she would be required to follow would be this one:

      Embrace diversity through a purposeful effort to positively engage all individuals within the school or in a community setting regardless of age, race, color, creed, ethnicity, mental or physical disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status, or family makeup in a harmonious, respectful, and supportive manner.

      Source: Union High School Mission Statement

      • GentleGiant

        Exactly. It would seem from her own words that she holds her bible in higher regard than the laws and guidelines under which she is beholden to society and her place of work. Not surprising, as I think many Christians (or followers of other religions) feel that way.
        So it would seem that as long as she’s in accordance with her bible, she’s not afraid of “mortal” repercussions. From some of her ranting in the comments section (from the pdf), she seems to be slightly off-kilter, especially seen from a non-beliver’s point of view.

  • Anonymous

    But Mr. Barocas added, “Because her postings raised questions
    about her conduct within school, the school district can and should
    investigate whether she is performing her job in accordance with school
    policies and the state’s Law Against Discrimination.”

    This is key. Her views are smoke, so they warrant the search for, not the assumption of, fire. @GentleGiantDK:disqus ‘s posted comments are likewise smoke, but not hard evidence. They certainly warrant a search for evidence though. If a teacher were found to believe that people of color, or women, are intellectually and morally inferior, then this would certainly warrant a search for a pattern of behavior that harmed students of color or girls in the teacher’s class. The same should apply here.

    Having said all of that, if no evidence can be found that she brought her views into the classroom, no action should be taken against her. Teachers have a right to a private life and to take controversial, and even reprehensible, opinions. It sucks because we may suspect that they will slip those opinions in under the radar, but it’s unacceptable to create an atmosphere where opinions expressed outside the classroom are assumed to be being promoted inside the classroom and this leads to dismissal. That may sound attractive to some, but I would encourage them to think that when controversial opinions are targetted, no one is safe, including for example people who have an opinion on religion considered blasphemous by the vast majority of the people in the US.

  • Anonymous

    But Mr. Barocas added, “Because her postings raised questions
    about her conduct within school, the school district can and should
    investigate whether she is performing her job in accordance with school
    policies and the state’s Law Against Discrimination.”

    This is key. Her views are smoke, so they warrant the search for, not the assumption of, fire. @GentleGiantDK:disqus ‘s posted comments are likewise smoke, but not hard evidence. They certainly warrant a search for evidence though. If a teacher were found to believe that people of color, or women, are intellectually and morally inferior, then this would certainly warrant a search for a pattern of behavior that harmed students of color or girls in the teacher’s class. The same should apply here.

    Having said all of that, if no evidence can be found that she brought her views into the classroom, no action should be taken against her. Teachers have a right to a private life and to take controversial, and even reprehensible, opinions. It sucks because we may suspect that they will slip those opinions in under the radar, but it’s unacceptable to create an atmosphere where opinions expressed outside the classroom are assumed to be being promoted inside the classroom and this leads to dismissal. That may sound attractive to some, but I would encourage them to think that when controversial opinions are targetted, no one is safe, including for example people who have an opinion on religion considered blasphemous by the vast majority of the people in the US.

  • Anonymous

    But Mr. Barocas added, “Because her postings raised questions
    about her conduct within school, the school district can and should
    investigate whether she is performing her job in accordance with school
    policies and the state’s Law Against Discrimination.”

    This is key. Her views are smoke, so they warrant the search for, not the assumption of, fire. @GentleGiantDK:disqus ‘s posted comments are likewise smoke, but not hard evidence. They certainly warrant a search for evidence though. If a teacher were found to believe that people of color, or women, are intellectually and morally inferior, then this would certainly warrant a search for a pattern of behavior that harmed students of color or girls in the teacher’s class. The same should apply here.

    Having said all of that, if no evidence can be found that she brought her views into the classroom, no action should be taken against her. Teachers have a right to a private life and to take controversial, and even reprehensible, opinions. It sucks because we may suspect that they will slip those opinions in under the radar, but it’s unacceptable to create an atmosphere where opinions expressed outside the classroom are assumed to be being promoted inside the classroom and this leads to dismissal. That may sound attractive to some, but I would encourage them to think that when controversial opinions are targetted, no one is safe, including for example people who have an opinion on religion considered blasphemous by the vast majority of the people in the US.

  • Bob Becker

    Both H. and the ACLU got it right.   

  • Mudskipper5

    I agree she has a right to her opinions and, as long as she is not allowing her attitude toward non-heterosexuals enter the classroom and affect students, her opinions shouldn’t impact her employment as a teacher.

    I am concerned, however, that she seems to be well-aware of the fact that this is a public discussion, not private.  If you read through the comments (yikes!), she says something along the lines of being “proud” that this discussion is open to the public.  So she is not concerned that her own students might become aware of her opinions and be influenced by them?  This isn’t just a problem for GLBT students who might have reason to worry about how her attitude might influence her interactions with them.  What about students inclined to discriminate against GLBT students?  Wouldn’t they see this teacher’s very public attitude as a support for their own (or their parents’) negative views and potentially harmful actions?

  • Keiichi81

    Being a member of a religious minority group =/= being an awknowledged bigot. I couldn’t disagree more with FA.

    If someone wants to reprimand or fire a teacher because they’re an atheist, they have no legal grounds to do so; no more than they would if they were trying to fire a teacher for being a Mormon or a Buddhist or a Muslim. If someone wants to reprimand or fire a teacher for expressing a bigoted/racist opinion however, I think they’re well within their right; just like if that teacher were, for example, a Muslim and were caught posting on Facebook about how corrupt western civilization is and how they support jihad against Americans. Is it realistic to say “Oh, well, as long as he’s not voicing his attitudes about jihad in the classroom, it’s okay”? No, of course not. And taking action wouldn’t be reprimanding them for being a Muslim, it would be reprimanding them for expressing and supporting a hateful, discriminatory ideology

  • Jflycn

    There should be no public school. Period.

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      Or public healthcare. Period. Or food banks. Period. Or anything else that’s helpful to poor people. Period. Money should be the defining factor in getting anywhere in life. Period.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    Great post Hemant. I find it a bit ironic that such a level-headed post has so many comments full of hyperbole. 

    To those who feel Ms Knox should be fired for posting her beliefs on Facebook, are you arguing that we should fire anyone who holds personal beliefs outside the classroom which they do not bring into the classroom?

    It seems that many have completely missed Hemant’s point in his post. If Ms Knox can be fired for discussing her personal anti-gay beliefs on Facebook, then Heman’s position as a math teacher could easily be questioned by theists who find his, in their eyes, anti-theist posts on his blog.

    The ACLU’s response looks perfect. 

    • GentleGiant

      I find it ironic that such a seemingly level-headed post brings up so many strawmen.
      No one is arguing that she should be fired because she posted it on Facebook. But that the matter should be looked into because her opinions are so strong that it seems unlikely that she has kept them wholly out of her classroom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmithEsq Bill Smith

    In general, I agree with this post but with one caveat:  It depends on whether any of her own students were on the Facebook page.

    This case is somewhat similar to the case of Todd Starnes of Mount Dora, Florida, who was fired for posting anti-gay messages on his Facebook site.  Fox News made a big issue about how his free speech rights were supposedly violated, but it turns out that the problem the District has wasn’t so much with the posting itself — it was with the way he interacted with his own students (some of whom he had “friended” on Facebook, and who had commented on his post).

    Even outside the classroom, if a teacher happens to encounter one of her own students at the grocery store, in a restaurant, on a street, or on Facebook, the district has every right to expect the teacher to behave in an appropriate and professional manner toward the student.  So, aside from the question of whether she brings her bigotry into the classroom, the other question is whether she interacted with any students in the course of expressing her bigotry on Facebook.

    But subject to the above, I agree that what a teacher says outside of the classroom and outside the presence of her students is none of the district’s business.

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      I agree, it can be argued that if she ever used her face-book for school homework/assignment notices, postings, or similar events, then it is a part of her professional face to her students and therefor if she uses it to go on this rant then that ‘speech’ was completely inappropriate. However if the profile was simply for personal family/friend (non coworker) use and this thread was leaked, then I feel more sympathetic for the free speech argument. 

      Either way I think these incidents show that schools NEED to start hammering out a policy for use of social media when educators are concerned. Perhaps teachers need to have one profile for students/school events and one for personal use. I honestly can’t say for sure what a fair policy would look like, but there is clearly a need for one.

      • GentleGiant

        From the comments section, it would appear as if her profile was public, since there are people commenting who doesn’t appear to be on her friends list. So it wasn’t “leaked” by a family member or friend.

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      I agree, it can be argued that if she ever used her face-book for school homework/assignment notices, postings, or similar events, then it is a part of her professional face to her students and therefor if she uses it to go on this rant then that ‘speech’ was completely inappropriate. However if the profile was simply for personal family/friend (non coworker) use and this thread was leaked, then I feel more sympathetic for the free speech argument. 

      Either way I think these incidents show that schools NEED to start hammering out a policy for use of social media when educators are concerned. Perhaps teachers need to have one profile for students/school events and one for personal use. I honestly can’t say for sure what a fair policy would look like, but there is clearly a need for one.

  • Thomas Farrell

    Hemant,
    “However, if we want to go after teachers who privately hold unpopular —
    and, in this case, reprehensible — views, then we have to brace
    ourselves for Christian groups who want to target openly atheist
    teachers as well.”

    They already do. You of all people should know that.

    • Rieux

      He does know that. He thinks it’s unjust and outrageous. He’s right.

  • Thomas Farrell

    Hemant,
    “However, if we want to go after teachers who privately hold unpopular —
    and, in this case, reprehensible — views, then we have to brace
    ourselves for Christian groups who want to target openly atheist
    teachers as well.”

    They already do. You of all people should know that.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5IVDLJRGQTAVFK4KHLDKDH55Y Daniel

    If the teacher didn’t bring it into the classroom (including friending students who would have seen this), they can say what they want outside of class.

    When I assign a book report, I score it on the merits of the report, not on the merits of my views of the book.  

    I may privately roll my eyes at some titles, but it absolutely does not play a role is scoring the report.  And frankly, as an atheist, I’d rather have a kid read every Left Behind book in print than nothing at all.

    That said, I find it wildly unprofessional for a teacher to mock something the school is doing. We have the occasional lame assembly or what-not, but I consider it part of my job to put a happy public face on them even if I find them not to my liking.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E5IVDLJRGQTAVFK4KHLDKDH55Y Daniel

    If the teacher didn’t bring it into the classroom (including friending students who would have seen this), they can say what they want outside of class.

    When I assign a book report, I score it on the merits of the report, not on the merits of my views of the book.  

    I may privately roll my eyes at some titles, but it absolutely does not play a role is scoring the report.  And frankly, as an atheist, I’d rather have a kid read every Left Behind book in print than nothing at all.

    That said, I find it wildly unprofessional for a teacher to mock something the school is doing. We have the occasional lame assembly or what-not, but I consider it part of my job to put a happy public face on them even if I find them not to my liking.

  • Anonymous

    I saw this on a different blog on before the weekend… and I thought about it off an on all weekend.  I discussed with the hubby.  I’m torn, but I fall in the “no dismissal” camp.  They should check out her classroom because she says in her comments:

    “…as well as his disappointment and regret that he asked for me to be moved to his building because I encourage the future generations to seek a relationship with God, to honor their parents and authority, that I pray with and for the future generations situations, that I encourage the future generations to love Godhonor his sacrifice-not to use profanity and their fists-to be accountable and responsible for their actions in their bodies…”

    and “I follow the Great Commission Christ gave his followers…to go to ends of the earth baptizing and preaching the Gospel of Christ to every man, woman, boy and girl”

    and “And I dont mean protecting them from Christians telling them that God loves you and he created you for more; he created you not to practice homosexuality and I love you too! THATS WHAT I TEACH AND PREACH ma’am!”

    Does she actively encourage/teach her students in this manner or does she mean she prays for them in this manner?  If the former, she should be investigated and stopped.  If the latter, there’s nothing to be done about it.

    She is free to say what she wants on her FB page, but if it is public that everyone can read, and it was until recently, she has to deal with the fallout of any comments she makes, just like the rest of us.  Employers the world over and using FB to find out about the private thoughts and deeds of their current and potential employees… that’s the reality of life with social networking.

  • Anonymous

    I saw this on a different blog on before the weekend… and I thought about it off an on all weekend.  I discussed with the hubby.  I’m torn, but I fall in the “no dismissal” camp.  They should check out her classroom because she says in her comments:

    “…as well as his disappointment and regret that he asked for me to be moved to his building because I encourage the future generations to seek a relationship with God, to honor their parents and authority, that I pray with and for the future generations situations, that I encourage the future generations to love Godhonor his sacrifice-not to use profanity and their fists-to be accountable and responsible for their actions in their bodies…”

    and “I follow the Great Commission Christ gave his followers…to go to ends of the earth baptizing and preaching the Gospel of Christ to every man, woman, boy and girl”

    and “And I dont mean protecting them from Christians telling them that God loves you and he created you for more; he created you not to practice homosexuality and I love you too! THATS WHAT I TEACH AND PREACH ma’am!”

    Does she actively encourage/teach her students in this manner or does she mean she prays for them in this manner?  If the former, she should be investigated and stopped.  If the latter, there’s nothing to be done about it.

    She is free to say what she wants on her FB page, but if it is public that everyone can read, and it was until recently, she has to deal with the fallout of any comments she makes, just like the rest of us.  Employers the world over and using FB to find out about the private thoughts and deeds of their current and potential employees… that’s the reality of life with social networking.

  • pxilated

    I’m impressed that teacher salary is $70k/year.  

  • pxilated

    I’m impressed that teacher salary is $70k/year.  

  • Anonymous

    Wow this response is a bit frightening. You can’t just discriminate because you don’t like people and have wild conjectures about what they have done, and may do. When she actually brings some of her bigotry into the classroom, we can and will descend on her.
    But until then we could try to remember why we like the first amendment as it is. Because if she is actually fired, Hermant and anybody else could be in the crosshairs next.

  • Anonymous

    Wow this response is a bit frightening. You can’t just discriminate because you don’t like people and have wild conjectures about what they have done, and may do. When she actually brings some of her bigotry into the classroom, we can and will descend on her.
    But until then we could try to remember why we like the first amendment as it is. Because if she is actually fired, Hermant and anybody else could be in the crosshairs next.

  • revatheist

    I agree that her opinions, private or public, shouldn’t get her fired, so long as she keeps them out of the classroom.  That said, she posted a picture of a SCHOOL bulletin board in a ostensibly public forum and talked about how she didn’t like it.  This in and of itself shows that she is unable to check her attitudes at the door of the school.  She might as well have stood in the hallway in front of the bulletin board and announced “I’m going to complain to everyone I know because the Jesus-hating fags have put up a a bulletin board.”  She made the GLBT students under her charge a public target for bigots when she posted pictures from the SCHOOL, and that was inexcusable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1034366850 Erin Jones

    I agree that she should not be fired, it’s her personal beleifes on her facebook, but I will say that I see alot of talk of go in the special ed department i’m interning in, which is not cool.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Um… you really expect to get a job in education with that atrocious grammar and spelling?

  • Steve Caldwell

    If you believe Knox shouldn’t be teaching in a public school, then
    you’re essentially saying no evangelical Christian should be allowed to
    work in one, either, because they all hold similar beliefs in regards to
    homosexuality.

    Hemant — there are some exceptions to this statement.  An evangelical Christian who was gay and belonged to the Metropolitan Community Church would not be subject to this hypothetical ban that you’re talking about.

  • http://narcissisticclaptrap.blogspot.com/ narcissistic.claptrap

    By the way, I say this as an out lesbian who knows exactly what it is like to be queer in high school in the 80′s, when the climate was significantly worse for LGBT youth than it is today.

  • Anonymous

    It is certainly the case that Ms Knox’s views are pretty horrible.  She is clearly a prejudiced and outspoken opponent of equality and of gay rights in general.  Her job does not require her to promote gay rights or to change her personal views.  She is allowed to be a bigot.  Her right to be a bigot and to say bigoted things is even protected as long as she doesn’t do so in her role as a teacher.  I wouldn’t want such a person teaching my children and I would not hesitate to complain about her if she said anything, as a teacher that was homophobic, racist, sexist, etc.
    When she’s on Facebook or in the street or sitting in her living room at home she isn’t a teacher.  She’s a person on a social networking site, or in public or private.  She has the freedom to say what she wants even, no especially, if we disagree with her.

    • Rieux

      Agreed. Hemant and the ACLU have this right. The school should punish this teacher if she’s treating people inappropriately in the classroom; if not, they should leave her alone.

  • Roxane

    “Freedom of speech” only means that the government (usually) can’t suppress your speech unless it falls within certain categories–child porn, etc.  It does not mean that anyone can spout off anything they like with no consequences.  And it doesn’t mean that private employers can’t have stricter standards for their employees.  

    This case is analogous to the one about the TSA employer at the end of this article:

    http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20111017/news/710169875/

    The fact that this woman teaches at a public school might actually give her MORE First Amendment protection than she would have if she taught at a private one.

  • IndyPete

    The real question is, if she said similar things about just about any other minority … would you still be in the same position?

    And you can play the “if they keep it to themselves” line, but he hadn’t in this case. She was disgusted enough with someone even mentioning their spouse that she posted it in a public forum surrounded by all kinds of other condemnations from her.

  • Coyotenose

    Okay, hopefully this won’t sound too brownnosey:

    Teachers (at least the good ones) aren’t just teachers when they’re in class. They’re involved with students for many unpaid hours. Their public faces are important even outside of class.

    Hemant’s blog gives us insight into how much effort he puts into extracurricular time with his students, with college students, and with both student and nonstudent organizations. And what we see is a pattern of ethical behavior as regards his job and how he treats each group. His atheism activities appear to be very well separated from his classroom.

    The first thing we see about Viki Knox’s public face is her griping that her own school doesn’t follow her beliefs, and disparaging famous figures based not on what they did but on what they were. And she did it on Facebook, a social media platform that her students most definitely visit. The second thing we saw, as someone pulled from her comments and reprinted above, is her talking about how she witnesses to kids and mocking her school’s mission statement.

    (Then she doubles down by doing the random caps thing and committing a basic logical fallacy, but that’s not really relevant.)

    While (so far) we don’t know that she did anything to students that would be worth her job, the situations aren’t especially comparable. But I do get that Hemant wishes to be consistent and is applying the Golden Rule to his assessment of Knox.

  • Woody

    I haven’t read all the comments here, but so far everyone seems to miss one key point. This teacher was being critical of the school’s decision to recognize the LGBT history month. She wasn’t commenting on DADT or gay marriage laws. She was undermining her school, her employer, by being publicly critical of them. You can’t do this. As an employee, she can complain to her boss and there is a chain of command that can be followed. They can’t touch her for this, she has a very strong union.

    When you are an employee at a school or wherever, you can disagree with things like this, but in public you have to get with the program. I would fire this person for insubordination plain and simple.

  • Anonymous

    in my experience, this just isn’t true, Hemant. i’ve had some great teachers, world famous ones, private schools, all that shit. but also not so hot schools. i rank those in my top ten all time educators list from both. oddly, none of the believing ones make the list. one almost does, but he got pushed out of by the egyptian atheist feminist prof i had late in my career as a student. 

    you’re not wrong: believing teachers can be good. but it’s damn hard for them to be great, because in the end they always waste their greatness arguing for bullshit, as you call it, rightly. to see a great mind wasted on angels dancing on a pin is ultimately depressing and not inspirational. 

    i can recall several conversations, illegal ones, in certain environments, in which my teachers not only endorsed a particular view of religion, but told students why we were wrong to believe otherwise. in classes that had nothing to do with religion, history, or any other subject where such discussions could have possibly been called relevant. teachers preach all the goddam time. you know this, and report on it. i’ve got a dollar says this one is equally guilty. it’s only one family out of 50 who will complain, if that. which is why it keeps happening. they know most of the time they’ll get away with it. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      A world famous teacher? Is there such a thing? I can name 200+ athletes probably but I couldn’t name one teacher outside of ones that I’ve personally had or work with. I think if a teacher is somehow “world famous” then he/she isn’t doing their job well. The object of teaching, at least for me is to help build into my students lives, the knowledge they need for the next steps, the tools for gaining new knowledge and the love of learning and applying that knowledge. Its all about the students and none of it is about me. How can a person get famous doing that? Ha ha!

  • Mr Z

    There are a couple of issues here that people seem to be missing in their considerations. would we now naturally trust our children alone with a Catholic priest? Yes, that is unfairly judging all priests yet it IS fair because the church has done nothing to prevent further abuses. Should we trust someone who publicly is unapologetic about their bigotry to not be bigoted in the classroom? When I agree to a work contract it is very specific about what I can or cannot say in public about the contracting company. The school board here is at fault as much or more than the teacher. Their lack of guidance for public speech is appalling. No matter the end story on the teacher, the school board should be hounded into shame for their lack of guidance for their employees. NO, seriously, write to the school board not about the teacher but about their utter failure to prevent such drama. They should have. There are thousands of examples in the corporate world they can copy, and should have copied. They have failed both the students and the tax payers and should be held responsible no matter what is the outcome of the teacher’s comments.

    Yes, a teacher absolutely can hold their own views. This is a right. How they express them as an employee is absolutely under the control of their employee as a condition of employment. The school board, district, city, and state have guidelines which should have been brought to bear as a condition of employment. The school board has failed miserably. They should be punished without hesitation here, and without regard to the outcome of the teachers comments. THEY have failed the students already, and failed them miserably.

    Lets hang the right outlaws, but hang them we should.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    My concern is that she’s the Special Ed teacher. Students are vulnerable, yes, but she’s in charge of a class of students who are, typically, MORE vulnerable to poisonous ideologies than average high school students.

    Who’s to say she isn’t pushing her beliefs on them, and they simply don’t know to complain about it…

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      Special ed could also include the gifted program. Do we know EXACTLY who she teaches?

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

        Shove off, Troll.

        I was halfway railroaded into special ed, and there were no — ZERO — “gifted” students in the program. (They have a separate program.)

        So you have whackjob Christer teacher with heavy influence over vulnerable students. NOT. GOOD.

  • Anonymous

    The students were not required to friend the teacher on facebook so they can’t complain unless the teacher specifically sends harrassing messages to them.

    I’m strongly against schools punishing students for things they do outside the school, so I have to hold the same policy with teachers.

  • Anonymous

    The students were not required to friend the teacher on facebook so they can’t complain unless the teacher specifically sends harrassing messages to them.

    I’m strongly against schools punishing students for things they do outside the school, so I have to hold the same policy with teachers.

  • Neil

    It seems there’s evidence that she did express anti-gay views in the classroom. At this stage it appears to be hearsay, but I’d say it requires further investigation. The student making the claim is speaking at about the 1:50 mark in this footage.

    http://video-embed.nj.com/services/player/bcpid651974715001?bctid=1225459943001

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neil-Kerlogue/531919133 Neil Kerlogue

    There’s evidence the teacher is expressing anti-gay views in the classroom. This puts a different complexion on the complaint. The student making the claim is speaking at about the 1:50 mark in this footage. I’m posting this again because it seems the matter is being ignored here in subsequent posts. The comments were likely not restricted to Facebook.

    http://video-embed.nj.com/services/player/bcpid651974715001?bctid=1225459943001

  • Anon

    You support a persons right to congregate and raise money with the purpose of prohibiting certain rights based on sexuality? You believe that it is someone’s right to find a genetic disposition that has no effect on humanity, and call it evil, and persecute all who are born that way? These groups, exempt from taxes, spending money to influence politics. You believe this is permissible? What you say and believe is who you are, and someone who posts ignorant shit on their facebook is an ignorant bastard. Your argument suggests that ignorance should be tolerated at the cost of humanity. It is time for people to learn to adapt to a modern, accepting, cooperative world, or be ostracized.


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