(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A Michigan woman filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a public high school district and a teacher who allegedly kicked the woman’s son out of class for his religious beliefs regarding homosexuality.
The lawsuit, based on an Oct. 20, 2010, incident at a high school in the Howell Public School District, alleges that teacher Johnson McDowell asked student Daniel Glowacki, then 16, to leave his economics class when the Catholic teen shared that he did not support gays due to the teachings of his faith.
It was anti-bullying Spirit Day in the school district, and students were allowed to express their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth who are negatively targeted due to their sexuality.
The lawsuit reads that McDowell was wearing a purple t-shirt in honor of deceased Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide in September 2010 after his college roommate filmed him having a sexual encounter with another male student.
McDowell, according to the lawsuit, told a female student to remove a belt with the image of the confederate flag on it because it signified lynchings. Glowacki then asked the teacher why he was allowed to display a gay pride rainbow flag while telling others they could not display the confederate flag.
McDowell said the two flags represented different things, and asked Glowacki if he supported gay rights. When Glowacki said his Catholic faith forbade him to do so, McDowell allegedly told him and another female student to leave the room.
McDowell was suspended for a day without pay, but was able to return to class on a settlement with the school district.
Some students, parents and fellow teachers have expressed support for McDowell's decision to ask Glowacki to leave the classroom. While some argue McDowell was violating Glowacki's religious freedom, others argue he was protecting homosexual students from further bullying. On the Facebook page "Support Jay McDowell," Christian Hendren wrote: "As a gay educator, I am so happy to see others standing up for bullying in the schools. The truth is, bullying in schools will always occur, but it is part of our jobs as educators to keep our students safe. That is what you are doing. Thank you."
In his own statement last year, McDowell defended himself, saying, "I did not suspend the student from class that day due to his religious beliefs. I suspended him for his intolerant speech (“I don’t accept gays”) and class disruption ... I believe any symbol or speech that can cause a student to sit in fear in the classroom whether or not there is an outward show of that fear is by its very nature a disruption to the educational process."
Superintendent Ron Wilson, meanwhile, said in October that all the student was doing was voicing an opinion.
“The same thing would have been done had the student been on the other side,” Wilson added. “As superintendent, it’s my responsibility to foster fair, respectful treatment of all staff and students, and the teacher didn’t do that."
The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of Sandra Glowacki, mother of Daniel. The mother argues that the school district and McDowell violated her son's First Amendment rights by favoring homosexuality over religious freedom.
In addition to the classroom incident, the suit alleges that the teacher went on “a public campaign” to defend his actions and to portray the student as a “homophobe.”
The lawsuit further cites a mandatory assembly that was held by the school district earlier this year where school officials addressed the issue of bullying. The school district, the suit claims, “promoted the propaganda that ‘homophobia’ was causing teenagers to commit suicide” and “supported its ‘harassment speech’ policy to end homophobia.”
The assembly also allegedly referenced the incident between McDowell and Glowacki “to support the claim that hate speech was masquerading as religious speech.”
“The School District … has created a school environment that favorably promotes the agenda of gay rights activists while creating an environment that is hostile toward and disfavors students and families that oppose homosexuality on moral and religious grounds,” the suit states.