A new court case reminds us that having an opinion can be hazardous to your career.
David Flynn had been a winning football coach at Dedham High School in Massachusetts. His two children attended Dedham schools. Last fall he learned that his daughter’s seventh-grade history class, “World Geography and Ancient History I,” had been re-routed from discussing the classics and instead turned into a series of indoctrination sessions in the new woke ideology.
Without consulting or notifying parents, Dedham Public Schools loaded down the seventh-grade history class with contemporary topics on politics, race, gender, stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination and diversity. Naturally, these topics were presented from a progressive perspective and embedded with the usual biases and tropes that are accepted as gospel by left-wing educators.
For example, class materials labeled police officers and white people as “risk factors” to all black people and suggested that white people inherently see all black males as threats. A teacher used a cartoon character of herself wearing a BLM t-shirt, just in case some kids did not get the point.
Flynn did what any concerned parent might do when learning about his child being indoctrinated. He and his wife expressed their concerns to the history teacher and principal of the school – then later to Superintendent Michael J. Welch and three members of the Dedham School Committee. However, the school system had no interest in engaging in constructive dialogue. In October the Flynns removed their children from the school.
The issue came back to haunt Flynn in January when he was called into a meeting with Superintendent Welch, DHS principal Jim Forrest and athletic director Steve Traister. Welch confronted Flynn with one of the emails he had sent to the Dedham School Committee and asked him, “What are we going to do about this?” By the end of the meeting Flynn was informed that DHS was “going in a different direction” with their football program, and moments later a statement was released stating that Flynn was removed as head coach because of “significant, repeatedly expressed philosophical differences with the direction, goals and values of the school district.”
Progressives might see this as just desserts for Flynn, a parent who had the temerity to object to their efforts to bend the moral arc of the universe in their preferred direction. But we still live in a free country where differences of opinion must be able to be expressed without official reprisals. To this end Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of Flynn, seeking damages against the superintendent, principal and athletic director for retaliating against Flynn for exercising his First Amendment rights.
Flynn’s primary objection is that the curriculum was shifted without community input, and sought to promote a single, radical viewpoint on a controversial series of topics. Superintendent Welch “had the opportunity to make sure the Dedham teachers conduct themselves as professionals and to teach the courses objectively and without biased opinions,” Flynn said. “He chose not to.” Flynn believes that it is best when people “have the ability to compromise, especially in extremely controversial situations,” because compromise “allows people to experience life as a team.” The coach believes “this is where unity brings individual pride together and relationships begin to strengthen.”
Such reprisal actions against educators holding alternative viewpoints are nothing new. The Supreme Court addressed a similar issue in Pickering v. Board of Education (1968), in which Illinois high school science teacher Marvin Pickering was dismissed for writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper criticizing the school board over budget allocations. Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing for the majority, said that the firing violated Pickering’s rights and noted the “public interest in having free and unhindered debate on matters of public importance – the core value of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
In the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District the court addressed the issue of students suspended for wearing black armbands protesting the Vietnam War. The court sided with the protesters, and Justice Abe Fortas wrote for the majority that it “can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
These leading liberal jurists understood a core concept that today’s progressives have discarded, namely the importance of upholding the right to free speech especially when the ideas being expressed run counter to the prevailing orthodoxy. Cancel culture not only creates misery for the unfortunate individuals who draw the woke mob’s ire, it is an assault on the very idea of the value of free expression.
Several rallies have been held in support of Flynn by current and former students, parents and community members. They draw attention to the bottom-line fact that Flynn was a beloved member of the athletics staff who was great at his job. “Everyone loves coach,” a former Dedham High School football player said, “he gets kids to play football.” Let coach Flynn be judged by that standard, not because of his concerns about Dedham’s biased and substandard curriculum.
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research for Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog.