As you may know, Jerry Buell has returned to work.
If you don’t know, Jerry Buell is the central Florida high school teacher who, on July 25th, got so outraged while watching a TV report about the legalization of gay marriage in New York that on his personal Facebook page he wrote, “I’m watching the news, eating dinner, when the story about New York okaying same sex unions came on and I almost threw up.”
Then he did another post, about how gay marriage is a “cesspool.” “God will not be mocked,” he wrote. “When did this sin become acceptable???”
When a number of his 700 Facebook friends reacted negatively to his comments, Buell posted, “If one doesn’t like the most recently posted opinion, based on Biblical principals and God’s law, then go ahead and un-friend me. I’ll miss you like I miss my kidney stone from 1994.”
At Mt. Dora High School, where he teaches, Buell is (hold on, now) chair of the social studies department. He’s been teaching history at the school for nearly thirty years. So respected is he at the school that last year he was named Mt. Dora’s Teacher of the Year.
“I teach and lead my students as if Lake Co. Schools had hired Jesus Christ himself,” is how Buell describes himself on his school’s webpage. On his class syllabi is his warning, “I teach God’s truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, ’cause I ain’t changing!” On on a separate document, Buell wrote that he regards the classroom as a “mission field.”
A history teacher—a Teacher of the Year, no less—making sure everyone knows he won’t compromise in teaching “God’s truth.”
And people wonder why so many American students think europe is flavor of fruit roll-ups.
After being reassigned to administrative duties for about a month, Buell is now back teaching in the classroom; he missed but the first three days of school. His defense was vigorously mounted by the Orlando-based, ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel, who persuaded the Lake County School District that Buell’s postings on Facebook were protected by the First Amendment.
After the ruling in his favor, Buell told a local TV station that he had no plans to apologize for his remarks. “I’m exercising my rights, First Amendment rights, guaranteed in the Constitution, supported by the state of Florida … on Facebook,” he said. (At his wife’s urging, Buell has since deleted his Facebook page. Good call, wife.)
Besides what it indicates about America’s educational system, here’s my concern with this story: A man whom lots of kids see as an authority figure engages in public hate speech against gay and lesbian people. For doing that he gets in a little trouble—but the Big Word, the final call, is that it’s perfectly okay. What he did was fine. He got his job back. He won.
Buell’s story went large nationally. Thus did high school kids all across the country learn this week that it’s A-OK to pick on gay people.
It was at about this time last year that we start hearing of the first of what turned into a rash of gay youths committing suicide due to the incessant cruel bullying they’d suffered at the hands of their school mates. (Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds; thirty percent of all American teens who die by their own hand are LGBTQ.) It was these suicides that led me to interview Charles Robbins, then executive director and CEO of The Trevor Project. (You can read that very moving interview here. Please do.)
I’m harboring deep trepidation for the beginning of this new school year.
All those kids.
All those Jerry Buells, teaching them.