The Christian, the Atheist, and Gay Marriage

Posted on September 12, 2011 by


Funny Pic

The intersection between religion and teaching in a multicultural pluralistic society is sometimes fraught with difficulties. A case in point is a teacher in Florida who is not a fan of gay marriage. When he posted that opinion on his own time on his own Facebook page, he opened a very public hornets nest.

BACKGROUND

Jerry Buell has taught social studies and American history as a teacher for over 20 years. He apparently has been very successful at it, and last year he won a Teacher of the Year award. He is currently teaching in Florida. On July 25, he left the following message on his Facebook page when he learned of how the state of New York would start recognizing gay marriages:

“I’m watching the news, eating dinner, when the story about New York okaying same sex unions came on and I almost threw up. 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 as same-sex whatever! God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable???”

He went on to say he will never accept or condone same-sex marriage. “[I]t ain’t a marriage,” he wrote, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

“God loves us ALL, unconditionally, regardless of what we do. But He will not tolerate our actions forever. He hates sin, no matter the lable (sic) or degree. There are some things He calls abominations and ‘it’ is one of them.”

Christian Post

Now, even though Mr. Buell’s current employers do not have a “no Facebook” policy for their teachers, when he wrote this the Stuff Hit The Fan. Perhaps it was because he has had (and presumably still has whether he knows it or not) gay and bisexual students in his classes. Perhaps it was because of his 700 plus friends some were students and so saw his strongly worded opinion. Perhaps he offended some his fellow faculty. Or, maybe because when he was criticized by some of his friends and acquaintances he not only refused to apologize but said he would not miss anyone who “defriended” him due to his remarks. And lastly, perhaps it was the former student of his who turned him in for those remarks, but for whatever reason, word quickly spread and Jerry Buell was suspended with pay, kept from teaching in a classroom. Liberty Counsel (pro Christian legal group) and the American Civil Liberties Union were set to defend him on First Amendment grounds until today when the school finally decided to let him go back to teaching.

POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

When news of Mr. Buell’s comments first hit the airwaves and Internet, reaction was all over the place. Pretty predictably gay and liberal progressive blogs tended to be critical, worrying that his statements were an expression of extreme bigotry and that gay/lesbian students would feel unwelcome in his classroom. Christians, except of the more “modernist” variety tended to be defensive of his statements feeling his 20 plus years of teaching more than proved that he had the ability to leave his “religion at the door” so to speak. They were joined by civil liberties activists and libertarians of all stripes who tended to agree with this analysis as well as to add their own worries as to what the punishing of private opinions on one’s own time and equipment would do to free speech for teachers and other governmental employees. All of this was predictable. But , surprisingly, some more support came from an unexpected direction.

“The Friendly Atheist”, Hemant Mehta, made a defense of Buell on First Amendment grounds, as well as personal experience. Mehta, a high school math teacher, had been the subject of a complaint a few years earlier by a Christian group because of a post he made on his blog. He had successfully argued that his beliefs did not preclude him from teaching math to students of differing beliefs and intellectual consistency compelled him to defend Buell.

The role of a teacher is a very important one, and there is no doubt that students need to have a safe and respectful learning environment in any class room. That being said, teachers are human and we all have prejudices even if they remain hidden. Was the school system right to reinstate Buell, and what rules should we impose on teachers to keep their prejudices in check. Is the expectation that one will leave their religious or other personal beliefs at the door a realistic one? And if not, how should a school system deal with a teacher’s political, religious, and social beliefs?

LINKS

1. Teacher Won’t Apologize
2. Reinstatment
3. Friendly Atheist

Posted in: Religion