Fla. Teacher Returns to Class After Facebook Gay Marriage Dispute

A Florida high school teacher was back in his classroom today after being reinstated by district officials who initially suspended him from teaching because of Facebook comments he made against gay marriage.

Mount Dora High School teacher Jerry Buell, who teaches social studies, plans to use his experience to teach his students and others outside of school about First Amendment rights, his lawyer Harry Mihet told The Christian Post.

Buell wrote on his personal Facebook page that same-sex unions are a sin, that he "almost threw up" over news about the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, and that gay marriages were part of a "cesspool."

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When officials from the Lake County School District were alerted to the comments by a former student, Buell was reassigned to a clerical position at the district office. The teacher missed the first three days of school inside his classroom as a result of the suspension.

Buell’s reinstatement by the district included exoneration from any wrong doing and came in the form of a personnel communication to the teacher, said Mihet, who is the senior litigation lawyer at Liberty Counsel.

“They concluded that he had not violated any code or statute,” Mihet said. “He is elated to be reinstated, and most importantly to be cleared of any wrong doing. He feels that his First Amendment rights have been restored and upheld.”

At an event planned months ago by Liberty Council, Buell will be speaking tonight at First Baptist Church of Leesburg. The meeting was originally scheduled to tell others about the non-profit law group’s work and its ministry, Mihet said.

The Constitution and U.S. law is very clear that government should not regulate what teachers or other government employees say on their own time in private and personal capacities, the lawyer said. The law also protects school staff in regards to what they post on social media sites, he said.

“The government may tell Jerry what he can do or say while he is a teacher acting on behalf of the government, but when Jerry clocks out at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and becomes a private citizen, the government cannot tell him what he can think about an issue such as homosexual marriage or what he can say,” Mihet said.

“It doesn’t matter whether Jerry voices his opposition to homosexual marriage in the privacy of his home with one or two people listening, on a Facebook page with 20 friends or 2,000 friends, on a blog, on a radio station, from the rooftop, or the mountain top. The First Amendment absolutely protects his privilege to comment on an issue of public importance in public. The First Amendment is meaningless if it only protects speech that no one else can hear or it only protects speech that is warm and fuzzy,” he added.

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