By Steve Gunn
HOWELL, Mich. – It’s nice that we live in a society where it’s no longer acceptable to say nasty things about minority groups.
But that’s the result of human beings governing each other through social interaction. It’s a lot different than the government telling us what we can think or say.
There is danger in political correctness when it’s enforced from above. The right to free speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, must always be guarded, even when that means defending statements that aren’t very popular in some quarters.
That brings us to the case of Daniel Glowacki, who was a 16-year-old student at Howell High School in the fall of 2010.
Glowacki and another student engaged in a debate with one of their teachers over the morality of homosexuality. The teacher, Jay McDowell, responded by throwing the boys out of class.
Glowacki went home and complained to his parents, who in turn took the case to the school superintendent. The superintendent investigated the incident and suspended McDowell for one day without pay. Other school employees reacted in anger and the school district was torn down the middle.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Sandra Glowacki, the young man’s mother, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that McDowell violated her son’s First Amendment rights when he kicked him out of class. The lawsuit was filed with the assistance of the Thomas More Law Center.
A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 14, according to a report published by the Livingston Daily.
The situation began on a school day in October, 2010, when a group of Howell High School students chose to observe a statewide anti-bullying day. Some students and teachers took the demonstration a bit further, choosing to wear purple shirts to signify support for gay teens who were harassed on a daily basis.
McDowell wore a purple shirt that day, which was his right. But he reportedly displayed no patience for students whose opinions he didn’t agree with.
A female student entered his classroom wearing a belt buckle with the stars and bars of the old Confederate States of America. McDowell reportedly told her she could not wear such an item because it symbolized racism and offended people.
Daniel Glowacki, who was in the same class, reportedly defended the girl. He argued the belt buckle should be acceptable if the teacher’s purple shirt was acceptable. Glowacki went on to explain that he is a Christian and does not approve of homosexual lifestyles.
Another boy jumped into the argument to defend Glowacki, and McDowell threw them both out of class.
According to the lawsuit complaint, McDowell told Glowacki that the boys lost their right to free speech when they entered the classroom. He also allegedly called Glowacki a “racist and a bigot” and said the boys would be suspended for “bullying and harassment against gays.”
McDowell, who was president of the school district’s teachers union, was probably surprised to learn that he was the one facing suspension. Many union members reportedly came to his defense, accusing the superintendent of “fanning the flames of homophobia.”
You can’t enforce political correctness
Ron Wilson, superintendent of Howell schools, said he investigated the incident and determined that the students were simply exercising their right to free speech, in the same manner McDowell was by wearing a purple shirt.
Courts have consistently allowed students to express their views without fear of recrimination, as long as their activities do not interfere with the educational process, according to Wilson.
We agree with Wilson’s decision to suspend McDowell, and understand why Sandra Glowacki is pursuing the matter in court.
It seems as though McDowell considered himself to be correct, because he considered his position to be morally correct.
But the teacher forgot that morally correct doesn’t always mean legally correct. Perhaps the two students in his class were being insensitive jerks. That question is open to individual interpretation.
But this is America, where citizens have an absolute right to be insensitive jerks if they so choose. McDowell was not enforcing the law. He was enforcing his own idea of political correctness. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that mentions political correctness.
Even worse is that McDowell was a public employee, a representative of the state of Michigan. Wise people fear the day when anyone in government gains the power to determine what type of speech is acceptable.
Sensitivity toward others is a wonderful quality. But it must come from the human heart, on a voluntary basis. When government starts enforcing those qualities by regulating our speech, it’s time to stand up and strenuously object.
That’s what Sandra Glowacki is doing, on behalf of her son and the U.S. Constitution. It will be interesting to see how her lawsuit fares in the courts.