Attached is an image of the Bill Of Rights. I know, some of you have to turn your heads or cover your ears and yell “la la la la”, but here, in part, is the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”
How might this apply to the recent story of a Longmont teacher under fire? (Daily Times-Call 3/23/07 ” Global warming on trial“) The newspaper was exercising their “freedom of the press”, also part of the First Amendment, in reporting the story. The students were expressing their freedom of speech, in a lively debate and mock trial on this issue. The teacher and CSU student aide were expressing their freedom of speech and agreed that they presented both sides equally. The teacher even explained his neutrality in the classroom on the subject to a parent. So far so good.
The teachers freedom of speech, apparently, has its limits. Even though he threw in the disclaimer ” What I think is not the issue. It’s what the students dig up and how they present the case“, it was the following statement that got all of the attention: ” I don’t believe in Darwinism…” First thoughts that came to my mind were the lines from a song:” I don’t believe in Bible / Jesus / Kings / Elvis / Kennedy.” To many, these words are inspired, enlightened phrases, and artists should be protected enough to utter such things freely. Others may find these words, dare I say, religious or spiritual, equally worthy of encouragement and protection. The above citizen was exercising the full range of his First Amendment rights. But this was British subject, non US Citizen (at that time), John Lennon. A true genius, but not a PhD, and definitely not a grade school teacher. Double standard? But I digress.
With that one comment, this teachers detractors pounced and threw out the baby, the bathwater, the bathtub, and the bathroom. The vitriol is beyond belief as it’s escalated way past civil disagreement. Are these detractors First Amendment rights covered when it drifts into libel and slander? I won’t repeat some of the vile namecalling and attacks on this teacher and his family, you’ll just have to trust me or look it up yourself. Oddly, these are the same people that usually scream the loudest for their right of freedom of speech, but you better not disagree with them. I’ll also point out that much of this started before the second article ran (Daily Times-Call 3/27/07 ” Debunking Darwin“), where the teacher probably sent these people right over the edge.
The attack then switched to a book (and its cover art) the teacher wrote totally outside and separate from his school work. “District standards” (an oxymoron worthy of another discussion) being what they are, make it pretty clear what can and cannot be taught in our government schools. Has there been any evidence that this teacher has brought his outside opinions into the classroom? Appears that he’s gone pretty far not to bring his beliefs into the teaching environment. Which brings us back to the First Amendment. Above and beyond these so-called district standards, after covering the material required, are teachers barred from exercising any First Amendment rights? Namely speech and religion? Don’t give me the “wall of separation” nonsense, unless you can find that in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights (you can’t, it’s not there).
The question is which example do we want taught to our children: Keep your mouth shut and follow the rules no matter if they’re fair or just? That only certain free speech is acceptable (not including yelling “fire” in a theater of course)? Or that you should get multiple sides to the story, question and debate, and draw your own conclusions? The last example is pretty close to what was reported in the 6th grade debate. It is ironic that this whole episode sprouted from the topic of global warming, only in that many call it the “new religion”. Or is that debate also closed for discussion?
Personally, I see a possible First Amendment battle in the making. If not here by this teacher, perhaps somewhere else with another one. First, harm has to be shown to get that ball rolling. Since this teacher is soon retiring, his firing is unlikely. Keep your eye on this subject, it’s far from over.