Student Who Disagrees With Homosexuality Wins Free Speech Lawsuit Against Teacher

A federal district judge ruled in favor of a Michigan student who was removed from the classroom by his teacher for expressing his religious beliefs against homosexuality. The judge said punishing the student for his freedom of expression violated his First Amendment rights.

The court upheld the longstanding legal precedent that "students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

"While the Court certainly recognizes that schools are empowered to regulate speech to prevent students from invading the rights of other students, people do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or for that matter their way of life," Judge Patrick J. Duggan of the Eastern District of Michigan stated in his decision last month.

"Simply put, the law does not establish a generalized hurt feelings defense to a high school's violation of the First Amendment rights of its students."

According to court documents obtained by The Christian Post, the incident occurred in 2010 during Howell High School's "Anti-Bullying Day" after the teacher, Johnson McDowell, requested that another student in his class remove her confederate flag belt. The student, Daniel Glowacki, questioned McDowell on why the girl could not wear her belt while teachers were allowed to wear purple shirts representing anti-bullying as well as display rainbow flags.

The teacher testified that he gave Glowacki an explanation on the difference in symbolism between the confederate and rainbow flag, to which Glowacki responded, "I don't accept gays because I am Catholic." Glowacki was instructed to leave and another student who shared the same belief asked to leave with him. According to affidavits from other students in the classroom, McDowell told them that "students cannot voice an opinion that creates an uncomfortable learning environment for another."

However, the school district disagreed with his reason of reprimand, stating that it was based on McDowell's own personal offense.

"You disciplined two students for holding and stating personal beliefs, to which you disagree. You disciplined them in anger under the guise of harassment and bullying because you opposed their religious belief and were offended by it. The students were causing no disruption to the educational process," wrote the Howell Public School District, in a letter to McDowell, as reported by court documents.

Judge Duggan held that the teacher violated the student's First Amendment rights by engaging in viewpoint discrimination.

"As a reasonable teacher, McDowell should have known that Daniel's protected speech could not serve as the basis for discipline or as the basis for believing a school district policy was violated," the judge said.

With that, Erin Mersino, an attorney at Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., and lead counsel in the lawsuit, said students should voice their religious beliefs without fear.

"It is unconstitutional for a student to be punished for simply stating his/her views in opposition to the homosexual lifestyle," Mersino told CP. "This opinion has reached national attention and is being used as a model for how teachers should react to a student exercising his/her First Amendment rights."

However, court documents show that McDowell argued that fear is the consequence produced when students voice their opinion.

"In my opinion, Daniel Glowacki saying 'I do not accept gays' would cause students to possibly fear for their personal safety and definitely falls under personal degradation to not accept a group of people," said McDowell.

McDowell was ordered to pay $1 in damages to Glowacki, according to the judgment and has not appealed the ruling.

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