Judge rules in favor of student thrown out of class for saying he doesn’t support gay lifestyle
HOWELL, Michigan, July 16, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A judge has ruled in favor of a student who sued after he was thrown out of class by a gay activist teacher for expressing his religious beliefs against the homosexual lifestyle.
Federal District Judge Patrick J. Duggan of the Eastern District of Michigan declared the teacher’s actions in punishing Daniel Glowacki violated his First Amendment Rights.
"While the Court certainly recognizes that schools are empowered to regulate speech to prevent students from invading the rights of other students, people do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or for that matter their way of life," Judge Duggan stated in his decision.
"Simply put, the law does not establish a generalized hurt feelings defense to a high school’s violation of the First Amendment rights of its students."
The incident that led to the lawsuit occurred on October 20, 2010.
That day during Daniel’s economics class, teacher Johnson McDowell wore a purple “Tyler’s Army” t-shirt, as part of a national campaign promoted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to highlight “bullying” of homosexuals.
In testimony at the trial, the court heard that McDowell initiated a discussion about homosexuality when, after telling a female student he was offended by her confederate flag belt buckle and ordering her to remove it, he went on to explain the purple “Tyler’s army” shirt he was wearing was meant to promote tolerance of homosexuality.
The court heard that the teacher specifically asked Daniel about his feelings on homosexuals. When the boy responded that as a Catholic he was offended by the gay and lesbian lifestyle, Daniel was ordered to leave the classroom under threat of suspension.
In an interview with Damian Goddard of the National Organization for Marriage’s Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance, Daniel recounted what happened:
“I raised my hand and I asked him what the difference was between him wearing a purple shirt and explaining that to us, but Danielle (another classmate) couldn’t wear her rebel flag belt buckle,” Daniel said. “He asked me if I was really against the homosexual lifestyle and I told him that the homosexual lifestyle was against my Catholic religion.”
An altercation ensued, and Daniel said he quietly left the classroom after McDowell told him “we lost our right to free speech once we stepped inside his classroom.”
“As I was walking out into the hallway he came running out after me, calling me a racist and a bigot, telling me he’s going to get me suspended for bullying and harassment against gays,” said the teen. “When he started yelling at me, I was just kind of in shock, I didn’t know how to react to it.”
The Court’s opinion echoed the longstanding legal precedent (Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506-1969) that “students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), which represented Daniel in court, filed the federal lawsuit on December 14, 2012 against the teacher and the Howell Public School District.
Among other things, the lawsuit sought nominal damages, a declaration that the school policies and actions violate the Constitution, and an injunction to prohibit further constitutional violations.
In Judge Duggan's decision, the claims against the school district were dismissed, and the Court held that the teacher alone was the responsible party.
Thomas More Law Center attorney Erin Mersino, the lead counsel in the lawsuit, related that during the trial, McDowell tried to blame Daniel and claimed he caused a disturbance in the teacher’s classroom.
However, he added, "The teacher’s claims were wholly unsupported by all of the other evidence in the case, including affidavits of students in the classroom and the teacher’s own earlier statements.”
The teacher also tried to argue that Daniel’s religious statement was tantamount to “bullying.”
The TMLC noted that the ACLU appeared in the case as amicus and supported Daniel’s position against the teacher.
The YouTube video of Daniel Glowacki's interview with the National Organization for Marriage is available here.
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