Florida teacher suspended for Facebook entry opposing NY gay-marriage law

posted at 1:25 pm on August 19, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Do teachers in public-school systems have a “special ethics” code that prevents them from publicly speaking on policy issues?  Lake County Schools in Florida suspended Jerry Buell, a high-school teacher with a reportedly impeccable record for 22 years, for posting his opposition to New York’s new gay-marriage law, and will start termination proceedings against him.  The case will test First Amendment rights and encroaching political correctness:

Jerry Buell, a veteran American history teacher at Mount Dora High School, was removed from his teaching duties as school officials in Lake County investigate allegations that what he posted was biased towards homosexuals.

“We took the allegations seriously,” said Chris Patton, a communication officer with Lake County Schools. “All teachers are bound by a code of special ethics (and) this is a code ethics violation investigation.”

Patton said the school system received a complaint on Tuesday about something Buell had written last July when New York legalized same sex unions. On Wednesday, he was temporarily suspended from the classroom and reassigned.

So what did Buell write?

The first was posted on July 25 at 5:43 p.m. as he was eating dinner and watching the evening news.

“I’m watching the news, eating dinner when the story about New York okaying same-sex unions came on and I almost threw up,” he wrote. “And now they showed two guys kissing after their announcement. If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don’t insult a man and woman’s marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool of whatever. God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable?”

Three minutes later, Buell posted another comment:

“By the way, if one doesn’t like the most recently posted opinion based on biblical principles and God’s laws, then go ahead and unfriend me. I’ll miss you like I miss my kidney stone from 1994. And I will never accept it because God will never accept it. Romans chapter one.”

The school district suspended Buell, who had been the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2010-11, because they are concerned that gay students might be “frightened or intimidated” in his class.  That’s a pretty thin rationale for punishing someone over what appears to be more or less mainstream opposition to the gay-marriage law.  Even saying the above in a classroom would be a thin rationale for disciplinary action, unless school districts will be taking action against all teachers who talk politics in the classroom, and a Facebook posting is not a classroom speech.

If school districts are worried about hate speech outside the classroom, wouldn’t we be demanding that these Wisconsin teachers get fired?

Wonder how many of these were talking about the Wisconsin PEU reform in their classrooms?  A few of them brought their students out to protest, as I recall.  Should they be suspended and fired, too?  Isn’t this “intimidating and frightening” to conservative-minded students in Wisconsin?

Teachers are American citizens with same rights as every other American citizen.  They get to have opinions and express them publicly.  The school can and should control classroom conduct, and should butt out of other speech entirely.  And here’s a lesson about free speech and the Constitution that Lake County Schools apparently hasn’t grasped: there is no freedom from offense built into the First Amendment.  We don’t curtail speech on the off chance it might hurt someone’s feelings.  If we did, we wouldn’t have any free political speech at all.  And I would make the same argument in support of a teacher suspended from a public school for offering Facebook support for New York’s gay-marriage bill.

Update: Some clumsy wording in the opening paragraph made it seem like Buell was 22 years old.  He’s been a teacher for 22 years.  I’ve rewritten that passage.

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This is why I am against public schooling

bbz123 on August 19, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Lots of people get fired, or not promoted, warned or even not hired in the first place for what they say, have written or publicly posted under their name…has nothing to do with public schooling. Actually, I’m surprised no one’s blamed the unions yet.

You can even get in trouble for utterances that turn your angelic boss’s virgin ears red:

With the economy threatening recession, a new survey suggests that cursing and cussing in the workplace are not likely to help your career. The survey shows that 36% of bosses in the U.S. have issued a formal warning, and 6% have actually fired an employee for swearing.

All in all, this man’s rights are being violated and he’s getting the shaft.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 19, 2011 at 5:00 PM

I can’t wait to hear that both FIRE and CLA are going to pummel this Florida school system over this one.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Progressive.

Freelancer on August 19, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Well, how far off are we to where being a Republican could be considered a reason to fire a teacher?
I mean, you are a Republican and if the Republican agenda includes a marriage amendment, then, the logical conclusion is you are a part of a party that hate homosexuals, right? That could “frighten” some gay kid in class, don’t you know.

JellyToast on August 19, 2011 at 5:22 PM

I think what should frighten everyone in the class is when a teacher can be fired for expressing their opinion about a political or religious issue in public after school hours. But since most kids have zero understanding or knowledge of history nor an appreciation of liberty, they’re all too dumb to understand they kind of country that is being constructed to eventually enslave them.

JellyToast on August 19, 2011 at 5:26 PM

“We took the allegations seriously,” said Chris Patton, a communication communist officer with Lake County Schools.

That’s more like it.

infidel4life on August 19, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Just like all the other outrageous cases of schools overstepping their bounds, this school district is about to be blasted from all of the country. My guess is that they will retract within a couple of days.

If they didn’t want attention paid to those who object to the new NYC law, they shouldn’t have made a federal case out of it.

My question is, will the ACLU step up and defend him?

Common Sense on August 19, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Do teachers in public-school systems have a “special ethics” code that prevents them from publicly speaking on policy issues?

Only for those teachers that have the wrong opinion. Had the teacher opined that same sex marriage was a wonderful thing, there would have been no problem.

Anon Y. Mous on August 19, 2011 at 7:14 PM

So, if a Florida teacher comes out on a public website with criticism against my state for not having same-sex “marriage”, will that teacher face the same consequences?

And, of course, there is no same-sex “marriage” in Florida, is there?

oakland on August 19, 2011 at 7:29 PM

The school district are criminals, zero doubt.

proconstitution on August 19, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Liberal and leftist teachers probably vomit their opinions on tea partiers, conservatives and Christians all over their Facebook pages, and nobody cares or notices, and the school just shrugs.

However, I think, if this fellow is a professing Christian, there is something to be said regarding the admonition in Scripture to be as “wise as serpents” but “harmless as doves.” I keep feeling there are better ways he could have worded this so it wouldn’t sound as brutal and insensitive as it came across. I’m not implying he should not be able to air his personal views regarding the issue; being an American he has that right. It’s just that the way he worded it…well…it’s not very Christlike to me.

My mother always used to say, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Just sayin’.

theotherone on August 19, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Contrast that with what happened here in California with a teacher making anti-Christian comments in the classroom.

http://www.bluecollarphilosophy.com/2011/08/court-sides-with-california-teacher-who-made-anti-christian-remarks-in-the-classroom-get-use-to-it-use-to-it.html

Our public schools are becoming more gay friendly and more intolerant of Christianity at the same time. Expect this kind of thing to continue as homosexuality is normalized and as Conservatives appease gay marriage. Ideas have consequences.

Blue Collar Todd on August 19, 2011 at 8:50 PM

This is a non-story … they can’t violate that teacher’s right to free speech in a forum where he isn’t representing the school. If it had been on a school webpage – then yeah, sure … but not on his personal page.

This guy is about to make some money in a lawsuit … and then he’ll move to Houston where Rick Perry will give him a new teaching job. :D

HondaV65 on August 19, 2011 at 8:52 PM

The school district suspended Buell, who had been the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2010-11, because they are concerned that gay students might be “frightened or intimidated” in his class.

And yet conservatives who might be intimidated by rabidly liberal teachers are S.O.L. – right?

disa on August 19, 2011 at 9:41 PM

HondaV65 @ 8:52 PM

I hope you’re right, but a guy who’s been teaching this long should know the drill: Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, take the check, and keep on moving.

teacherman on August 19, 2011 at 10:24 PM

I hope you’re right, but a guy who’s been teaching this long should know the drill: Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, take the check, and keep on moving.

teacherman on August 19, 2011 at 10:24 PM

At first I thought the same thing, but then I remembered that the guy didn’t say anything in school, but rather posted on Facebook. And, he didn’t say something like he hated “fags” or the like…now, if he was a member of the Phelps’s Westboro “Church” he’d be OK.

What if he mentioned his stance on this issue to a co-worker in private and it got back to the Cajone-less big whigs at district? Same thing in all likelihood.

Wonder when they’ll start giving “purity tests” to employees? Answer something un-PC and you’re outtathere!

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 19, 2011 at 11:00 PM

theotherone on August 19, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Very interesting take on the “wise as serpents” quote. I also note that Jesus wished that his disciples could be as wise in the ways of the world as “the heathens”.

There are various passages that people tend to forget because they are not part of any official doctrine or any simplistic summation of being “on fire” for Jesus. This is no condemnation of anybody, but just a reminder.

Axeman on August 19, 2011 at 11:42 PM

Jerry Buell, a veteran American history teacher at Mount Dora High School,…

Well there’s your problem right there… He’s probably been teaching American history as it really was and not the politically correct version being pushed by the liberal left. They have probably been waiting for a reason to can this guy.

Big John on August 20, 2011 at 1:53 AM

The principal was probably dying to find ways to get rid of tenured teachers to save some money, and latched on this issue fast.

V-rod on August 20, 2011 at 5:49 AM

I don’t think that he should have be fired or suspended. However, the teacher used very poor judgement posting such a crass remark on a public forum such as Facebook. What if he had said that remark in his classroom?…………and, yes, I am gay.

I do have another question, was he using Facebook to friend current students? I really think that all teachers need to stop that practice.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 8:01 AM

It’s just the PC speech gestapo-supported by the cultural left that inhabit both parties. This stuff is just the beginning of what happens when a nation has a moral armaggedon.

Don L on August 20, 2011 at 8:02 AM

Why I don’t have a Facebook account, part 120,564,893

Uncle Sams Nephew on August 20, 2011 at 8:31 AM

Liberal and leftist teachers probably vomit their opinions on tea partiers, conservatives and Christians all over their Facebook pages, and nobody cares or notices, and the school just shrugs.

theotherone on August 19, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Yup. My sister is one.

the teacher used very poor judgement posting such a crass remark on a public forum such as Facebook.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 8:01 AM

?
You don’t know that his students are his “friends”.
That “crass remark” is a mainstream opinion.

itsnotaboutme on August 20, 2011 at 9:20 AM

First of all, I am going to assume that the teacher’s facebook page is set to private, or friends only….just an assumption.

But, even if it is not…that is his personal page. I don’t understand any employer having any say about anything written on fb.
It’s maddening to me.

Now, answer me this. My fb page is set to private. Quite strictly private, or so I think.
Am I wrong?
(I don’t think I’d ever have any problems with what is put on my fb page, but the idea that it can happen at all seems So absurd to me) Unbelievable.

bridgetown on August 20, 2011 at 10:19 AM

That “crass remark” is a mainstream opinion. – itsnotaboutme on August 20, 2011 at 9:20 AM

It is still is a crass remark regardless if it is a mainstream opinion. As I said, he should not be suspended or fired. Am I not entitled to my opinion also. I went through junior high and high school knowing I was gay and not being able to tell one person. I was depressed and anxious. Suicide was not out of the question. All I could ask is why am I gay? I just wanted so, so much to be “normal”.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 10:27 AM

If this teacher was “friends” with his students, he was stupid and rude.
But, it is not something that should affect his job in any way.
Even if his students saw his quip….so what? Maybe they should learn that some people think this way. Derrrr, oh, but they probably already know that.
It’s not like he was threatening anyone, “if I see a gay person, I’ll kick their #$%”

This is why our children are not being educated. The idiots in charge are not focusing on actually educating the children.

bridgetown on August 20, 2011 at 10:32 AM

My question is, will the ACLU step up and defend him?

Common Sense on August 19, 2011 at 6:49 PM

No, they will not. If he were a child molester they’d be there will bells on. Count on that.

abcurtis on August 20, 2011 at 10:46 AM

It’s just that the way he worded it…well…it’s not very Christlike to me.

My mother always used to say, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Just sayin’.

theotherone on August 19, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Excuse me? So who was Jesus talking to when he called them thieves, hypocrites, liars and used descriptions like serpents, whiten sepulchres et al? The reason that the High Priest and his lackeys wanted Jesus executed was because of the repeated insults and being damned by his “opinions”. The Romans could care less. Christlike is the totality of all his words and deeds and it wasn’t Minnesota Nice.

AH_C on August 20, 2011 at 10:56 AM

communication officer

You mean commissar, I believe.

roy_batty on August 20, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Sounds like they’re not just violating his Free Speech rights but his Right to religion as well. After all, he expressly states that his opinion is based on his belief in “biblical principles and God’s laws”.

eclark1849 on August 20, 2011 at 11:19 AM

I hope you’re right, but a guy who’s been teaching this long should know the drill: Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, take the check, and keep on moving. teacherman on August 19, 2011 at 10:24 PM

That’s what made this country great…

Akzed on August 20, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Christlike is the totality of all his words and deeds and it wasn’t Minnesota Nice. AH_C on August 20, 2011 at 10:56 AM

Amen. But He’d have been crucified in MN too, don’t worry.

Akzed on August 20, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Either defund the Department Of Education or change the name to be more accurate The Department Of Indoctrination.

Tim Zank on August 19, 2011 at 1:55 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with that. AND, this story (teacher suspended from a public school job because he wrote on facebook that he does not agree with ‘gay’ marriage) is a prime example of WHY most Liberals demand “more federal funding” of public education. It’s not the quality of education they want, it’s the USE of public education to indoctrinate students (once federal money is involved, the Left can claim, and they do claim, that individual rights are suspended or “not to be considered”).

Lourdes on August 20, 2011 at 11:36 AM

You guys aren’t paying attention.

Let’s try this again.

Here’s the relevant part of the law (and you probably have a similar or identical law in YOUR state):

“Harassment” means any threatening, insulting, or dehumanizing gesture, use of data or computer software, or written, verbal, or physical conduct directed against a student or school employee that:
1. Places a student or school employee in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or damage to his or her property;
2. Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities, or benefits; or
3. Has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of a school.

Bottom line – If a student insists that what Mr. Teacher wrote on his PERSONAL Facebook page is upsetting him/her to the point where it is affecting his/her “educational performance” then they have a case – unless you are dealing with a school district with exceptionally strong backbone (hint: not likely).

Very similar to sexual harassment laws – if you FEEL harassed, you ARE harassed. The big difference here is that schools are now legally obligated to deal with behavior that happens EVERYWHERE – not just on school property.

BTW – If your head is exploding, I understand.

Finally – want to get some dirty looks? Start questioning this legislation and whether it’s appropriate or necessary. Have fun!

scarchin on August 19, 2011 at 4:56 PM

HOWEVER, on the other hand, for law enforcement to act on a complaint about “a threat of violence” (of the life-threatening kind), even though a threat might be proven (in writing, traceable), if it’s not considered POSSIBLE TO BE CARRIED OUT, law enforcement won’t act on it.

So there’s also a great deal of territory to be considered as to the “feeling” aspect of complaints. While someone may “feel” “threatened” or “harassed,” they may also “feel” that their teacher is a secret agent stealing their thoughts and from another planet.

IN all seriousness, anyone can “feel” just about anything (and most of us do at different experiences in our lifetimes) but to be taken seriously, as to the issue of someone harming someone else by simple expression of opinion that runs contrary to another’s or even shakes another’s worldview demonstratively, to be taken seriously, there has to be evidence proven of actual harms taking place or likely to occur.

So I do believe that our citizen rights take precedent over these “possible” threats as other people experience us exercising our rights.

Lourdes on August 20, 2011 at 11:43 AM

Very similar to sexual harassment laws – if you FEEL harassed, you ARE harassed.

Not necessarily so. Feelings are the responsibility of he or she who is complaining. It’s an interpretation of another’s behavior and statements. I’m not saying that that never occurs but I do recognize the difference between someone’s perceptions and reality all too often.

The “environment” has to be shown to be hostile of a sexual/gender sort and has to be documented as such, as to “sexual harassment”.

Lourdes on August 20, 2011 at 11:46 AM

The teachers unions have altered our public education from an instructive environment to one of a socio-political indoctrination system.

There’s nothing objectionable nor offensive about not supporting such a thing as “‘gay’ marriage”.

The issue here is that the Left, including homosexual activism, is working feverishly to indoctrinate public discourse, to alter the term “bigot” (to slur, slime someone else) to define those who don’t agree withh “‘gay’ marriage” as if that’s a baseline social set or condition such that to NOT agree with such is to be outside the norm.

No one is a “bigot” when they support traditional marriage — one man and one woman at one time — while the actual bigots today are on the Left trying to convince vulnerable minds in youth to accept the opposite. The use of peer pressure and public humiliation among youth is a very strong motivator which is why the Left is using public education (and media) to try to force their bigoted views on society (that to oppose “‘gay’ marriage” is to be bigoted, which is not true).

Lourdes on August 20, 2011 at 11:54 AM

Either defund the Department Of Education or change the name to be more accurate The Department Of Indoctrination. – Tim Zank on August 19, 2011 at 1:55 PM

There should be no Federal Department of Education. And, the No Child Left Behind Law should be repealed.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Whoever made the decision to fire the teacher should be terminated or demoted. Until sanctions are applied to suppression of speech our rights will not be taken seriously.

DaMav on August 20, 2011 at 1:57 PM

A public high school teacher in California may not be sued for making hostile remarks about religion in his classroom, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

A teacher may disparage Christians in class in front of students, but not make a personal statement against homosexual marriage on his own time.

How progressive.

Rebar on August 20, 2011 at 2:56 PM

A teacher may disparage Christians in class in front of students, but not make a personal statement against homosexual marriage on his own time.

How progressive. – Rebar on August 20, 2011 at 2:56 PM

I agree with the court ruling. It is sort of like what Rick Perry told a younster, who was parroting her parents, when the child asked, do you believe in creationism or evolution. Perry’s response was great. He said that we teach them both in Texas and when you grow up you determine for yourself what to believe in.

Gay and lesbian issues are hotly debated these days and children who are gay and lesbians, I guess are just going to have to deal with people’s opinions. No one said life is fair.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Akzed @ 11:28 AM

You must be independently wealthy. Men putting up with sh!t at work and doing what they must to take care of their families IS what made America great. So stuff your wiseass remarks from the peanut gallery.

teacherman on August 20, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Michelle Bachmann the winner of the Republican straw poll in Iowa did not retract her statement that gays ant lesbians are part of Satan………………this is not the Republican Party that I profess to a member. I’ll have to get a photograph from Newsweek or Time magazine of Barry Goldwater and have it framed.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 10:03 PM

My son starts High School this year. We went to the orentation night where they encouraged the kids to join an after school activity or group. I looked through the list for maybe some shooting sports like I had in High scool. Instead I found two gay organizations and and aids support group.

I asked if I could start a shooting sports group that would focus on gun safty. I was told that it was not proper for a school to have such organizations.

Times have changed.

mechkiller_k on August 20, 2011 at 10:51 PM

I agree with the court ruling.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Teaching that Christian beliefs are stupid is ok in your book, comes as no suprise to me.

this is not the Republican Party that I profess to a member.

SC.Charlie on August 20, 2011 at 10:03 PM

The republican party platform, for decades, has been for traditional marriage and against DADT repeal – ie firmly against the progressive homosexual agenda. So either you’re lying about being a republican, or wholly ignorant of what the party’s fundamental platform is.

Rebar on August 21, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Rebar, even the Catholic Church does not denounce the theory of evolution. So I guess that the Catholic Church is not Christian?

You also state that:

The republican party platform, for decades, has been for traditional marriage and against DADT repeal – ie firmly against the progressive homosexual agenda. So either you’re lying about being a republican, or wholly ignorant of what the party’s fundamental platform is. – Rebar on August 21, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Bachmann’s statement that gays and lesbians are part of Satan goes far beyond the positions or the Republican Platform.

I am all for traditional marriage and not for gay marriage. I just wish that heterosexuals would get their act together, get married, stay married and raise some wonderful children. All that said, the issue of gay marriage is headed to the United States Supreme Court. We will have to see what the nine black robed jurists have to say on the subject.

As for Gays in the military, I defer to Mr. Conservative himself, Barry Goldwater.

SC.Charlie on August 21, 2011 at 7:02 AM

Liberals have never believed in equality.

Teachers are free to spew liberal rhetoric all day long and school districts protect them. Try saying something conservative and you are out!

An atheist can share his/her opinion of God all day long but not a Christian.

Liberals want to play hard ball and they want to be the only ones that can touch the ball.

The Rock on August 21, 2011 at 11:06 AM

blink on August 21, 2011 at 11:04 PM

Agreed.

There are only three hoops this teacher has to pass through to prove his case:
a) His facebook site was not edited during his hours of employment, and
b) He did not assert that the site had the sanction of his employer, and
c) He behaved properly on the job.

(c) has already been proven by the district — a “teacher of the year” award is not given lightly. That leaves (a) and (b) — both of which have tripped up liberal teachers in the past.

Civil service people have extensive job protections, and their jobs do not preclude private (unofficial) commentary. This will be an interesting fight. I suspect Mr. Buell will have many deep-pocketed allies willing to spend what it takes to defend his freedom of speech.

unclesmrgol on August 23, 2011 at 12:02 AM

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