A federal district court judge ruled last week that a Michigan high school teacher violated a student’s free speech rights when he kicked the student out of class for voicing disapproval for homosexuality.
The ruling was perhaps a hollow victory for the student, Daniel Glowacki, though, because the judge assessed damages of just a single, solitary dollar.
The incident giving rise to the lawsuit happened in 2010 on national Anti-Bullying Day at Howell High School in Howell, Michigan.
The teacher, Johnson (“Jay”) McDowell got into a heated argument with student Daniel Glowacki in an economics class after Glowacki said he objected to homosexuality because he is Catholic.
Judge Patrick Duggan ruled that the First Amendment protects Glowacki’s speech.
As the judge notes in the first sentence of the opinion, the case is an example of the tension between anti-bullying policies in public schools and the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.
On October 20, 2010, members of the Gay Straight Alliance had asked students and teachers to wear the color purple to celebrate Anti-Bullying Day at Howell High School in Howell, Michigan.
Some students wore purple. Some also wore clothing emblazoned with rainbow flags and other symbols in support of the Gay Straight Alliance.
McDowell, who wore purple that day, took time out of his sixth-hour economics class to talk to students about bullying and to show students an anti-bullying video.
McDowell also noticed a student wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle. He asked her to remove it.
According to the district court opinion, Daniel testified that he “calmly raised [his] hand” and asked McDowell why one student couldn’t wear a Confederate flag belt but other students and teachers could wear purple shirts and display rainbow flags.
McDowell told the student that there is a “difference in symbolism between the Confederate flag and the rainbow flag.” According to Daniel, the economics teacher explained that the Confederate flag represents “discrimination against blacks.”
Daniel observed that purple shirts discriminated against Catholics and said, “I don’t accept gays.”
McDowell told Daniel he couldn’t say that. Daniel then amended his statement. “I don’t accept gays because I’m Catholic,” he said.