A teacher in a Los Angeles prep school e-mails to say this message went out to everyone in the school the other day, via an e-mail from the administration, on behalf of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance:
[UPDATE: I’ve taken down this specific note, at the request of the teacher, who is now worried about being found out. It was an email sent by the school’s administration, on behalf of the Gay-Straight Alliance in the school, giving the rules for participating in the Day Of Silence, and encouraging others to. — RD]
The reader adds:
I am a traditionalist Catholic teaching at a secular Prep school in Los Angeles. The school has no other day where silence is reserved for a political/cultural cause.
Let me ask you, Mr Dreher: If students get to express their views about gay rights on a day sanctioned by the class, and I am not given a forum to express my views, is this censorship? Something about this once a year gay rights event taking place inside the classroom–not out in the lunch area or in a publicized debate–feels eerie to me. When I was a high school student teachers expressed their viewpoints to me constantly, but students never became visible foot soldiers of a cause that effects the content of the day’s lesson. I literally have to plan for activities students can do in silence now.
Am I overreacting? Am I the intolerant one for questioning a student’s freedom of expression, or is it an institutional abuse of the bully pulpit for schools to give the green light to let students display their political beliefs through silence in the classroom? I personally believe this is another example of the gay rights movement being bad winners and imposing their message through a display of coercion. (If I were to ban students from maintaining silence, then they would become the martyrs, so the choice I have as a teacher is really no choice at all.)
Yes, and if you were to insist that all your students participate in class that day, they would mark you out as a homophobe, and start watching you closely for any sign of bigotry, upon the discovery of which they would start a drive to get you fired. Because that’s where the gay rights movement is going. Which teacher has the guts to stand up to these kids, or anybody demanding anything in the name of gay rights? Do you want to be labeled a homophobe? People lose their jobs and their businesses that way.
It’s not a joke. GLSEN, the gay activist group organizing the Day Of Silence, has a Day Of Silence FAQ put together by Lambda Legal, inviting students to contact them for legal help if they feel that their rights to be silent have been improperly infringed upon. Do you, Madam Principal or Mr. Teacher, want to get a phone call from a Lambda Legal lawyer telling you that your insistence that this disruptive protest event not go on is going to be challenged in court? Better get with the program — or else. You’ve seen what happened to Brendan Eich. You’ve seen what happened to Chauncey Childs. Nice job you have there; sure would be a shame if something happened to it.
You think hard about what this kind of Day Of Silence bullying means. What if you’re a teacher who has deep problems of conscience with gay marriage, but has no intention of bringing your moral views to the classroom. You just want to teach math, or science, or English, and you are meticulous about being just to everyone in your classroom. But now you have to be afraid of your students, because you live in a culture in which to dissent, or to be suspected of dissent, is to put your livelihood on the line. Maybe you actually favor gay rights, but you don’t want your classroom to become politicized. Maybe you want to protect the students in the classroom who don’t want to participate in the group protest out of conscience reasons, or who don’t care one way or the other about gay rights, but just want to learn. But if you won’t allow the protesting students to do their thing, the gay-rights mob might turn on you, or you might even get a call from Lambda Legal, or at least from the superintendent, asking you to come down to headquarters and explain what exactly you did in the classroom on the Day of Silence that caused Lambda Legal to phone the school’s attorney to complain.
So you consent. You fall silent. And everybody falls into GLSEN’s line. GLSEN, the organization that in 2009, came up with a “recommended reading list” that … well, here’s a column I wrote about it back then. Excerpt:
The material is shockingly pornographic and cannot be discussed in much detail in a newspaper. Aaron Fricke, author of Reflections of a Rock Lobster, recalls performing oral sex on fellow first-graders. He gets lyrical reflecting on his erotic friendship with little Billy Marlen. “We were human beings who knew no social inhibitions and were willing to explore our sexuality to its fullest,” Fricke writes. He was in fourth grade; his child lover was in third. In another book, a lesbian essayist remembers making out as a tot with a girlfriend.
An essayist contributing to the Queer 13 anthology recalls his teenage introduction to lust in public lavatories (“The whole world of rest-room sex had opened itself up to me”). In another GLSEN-approved text, a young “sex worker” in San Francisco discusses how becoming a sadomasochistic transgender prostitute made him “a lot more confident and secure with myself.” Several books feature testimonials in which authors recall their liberating childhood erotic encounters with much older adults.
Again, GLSEN recommends this material for grades 7-12, in the name of promoting tolerance and safe schools.
If you read nothing else today, read Mollie Hemingway’s piece about Vaclav Havel and Brendan Eich. She quotes liberally from a famous 1978 speech written by the Czech dissident, analyzing how society spreads fear and imposes conformity without waiting for the government. Hemingway writes:
To explain how dissent works, Havel introduced the manager of a hypothetical fruit-and-vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” He’s not actually enthusiastic about the sign’s message. It’s just one of the things that people in a post-totalitarian system do even if they “never think about” what it means. He does it because everyone does it. It’s what you do to get along in life and live “in harmony with society.” (For our purposes, you can imagine that slogan is a red equal sign that you put up on your Facebook page.)
The subtext of the grocer’s sign is “I do what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me.” It protects him from supervisors above and informants below.
Havel is skeptical of ideology. He says that dictatorships can just use raw power, but “the more complex the mechanisms of power become, the larger and more stratified the society they embrace, and the longer they have operated historically … the greater the importance attached to the ideological excuse.” We don’t have a dictatorship, obviously, but we do have complex mechanisms of power and larger and more stratified society.
In any case, individuals need not believe the lies of an ideology so much as behave as though they do, or at least tolerate them in silence or get along with those who work with them. “For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system,” Havel says.
In the greengrocer scenario, Havel notes that if the text of the sign read “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he might be embarrassed and ashamed to put it up. The dissidents are the ones who, by refusing to put the sign up, or refusing to recant, shine a huge light on the system, including the ones who go along to get along. All of a sudden those Facebook signs, those reflexive statements, those cries of “Bigot!” look less like shows of strength and more like shows of weakness.
Read the whole thing, and send it to everybody you know.
If enough people start resisting these fascist tactics to compel consent and demonize dissent, if enough people say I’m not afraid, and I’m not unquestioningly obedient, this will stop. It will only get worse until people stand up and say they’re tired of being bullied by this crowd. Slate’s Will Saletan is a man of the left who actually believes in liberalism, and is standing up to the bullies on his own side. He writes:
Losing your job for being gay is different from losing your job for opposing gay marriage. Unlike homosexuality, opposition to same-sex marriage is a choice, and it directly limits the rights of other people. But the rationales for getting rid of Eich bear a disturbing resemblance to the rationales for getting rid of gay managers and employees. He caused dissension. He made colleagues uncomfortable. He scared off customers. He created a distraction. He didn’t fit.
It used to be social conservatives who stood for the idea that companies could and should fire employees based on the “values” and “community standards” of their “employees, business partners and customers.” Now it’s liberals. Or, rather, it’s people on the left who, in their exhilaration at finally wielding corporate power, have forgotten what liberalism is.
GLSEN may be supported by major American corporations, but they are a bunch of intolerant bullies. McDonalds, Disney, Target, IBM — you guys back bullies. When a teacher loses control of his classroom out of fear that his students may rile the mob up to demand his job — and no teacher in this man’s school dares to deny the protesters what they want; perhaps it protects them from supervisors above and students below — it’s time to fight back.
UPDATE: The teacher writes back to clarify that it’s known among the faculty that if you don’t go along with this, you will set yourself up for trouble. He said, “I don’t want to be another Brendan Eich, so I plan on keeping my mouth shut. If I want to keep my job there’s nothing else I can do.”
UPDATE.2: In this classic clip from The Twilight Zone, Billy Mumy instructs today’s students how to make three-headed gophers, and how to make the adults approve of it … or else:
UPDATE.3: A reader writes:
I feel like you are missing an obvious connection to the story you posted today, probably because you are not aware of it. We have already had a court case about the Day of Silence (Harper v. Poway), in which a student silently protested the pro-homosexuality message of the school by wearing a shirt with a contrary message and was punished for it. The language the student used was probably not a good method for effective evangelization (to say the least), but surely falls within any reasonable definition of free speech.
Summary from Eugene Volokh, no conservative Christian:
Ninth Circuit ruling, even with their biased recounting of the facts, it still sounds like the school acted very poorly:
The Ninth Circuit’s refusal to hear the case en banc:
“Hate speech, whether in the form of a burning cross, or in the form of a call for genocide, or in the form of a tee shirt misusing biblical text to hold gay students to scorn, need not under Supreme Court decisions be given the full protection of the First Amendment in the context of the school environment, where administrators have a duty to protect students from physical or psychological harms.”
“Perhaps some of us are unaware of, or have forgotten, what it is like to be young, belong to a small minority group, and be subjected to verbal assaults and opprobrium while trying to get an education in a public school, or perhaps some are simply insensitive to the injury that public scorn and ridicule can cause young minority students. Or maybe some simply find it difficult to comprehend the extent of the injury attacks such as Harper’s cause gay students. Whatever the reason for the dissenters’ blindness, it is surely not beyond the authority of local school boards to attempt to protect young minority students against verbal persecution . . .”
Thanks for this, reader. I had not known. In the new gay-rights liberalism, all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. From Volokh’s assessment:
The majority “reaffirm[s] the importance of preserving student speech about controversial issues generally.” But, according to the constitution, this First Amendment principle somehow omits speech about controversial issues having to do with race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The Gay-Straight Alliance has a constitutional right to argue that homosexuality is quite proper, that same-sex marriages should be recognized, that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be banned, and that antigay bigotry is an abomination. But when the other side of this debate “about controversial issues” wants to express its views, which will often have to rest on the theory that homosexuality is wrong, sorry, apparently it’s not important to preserve student speech that expresses that view.
“[T]here is an equality of status in the field of ideas,” the Supreme Court has said. “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea.” “The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.” And yet according to Judge Reinhardt, the First Amendment itself discriminates against viewpoints that express hostility to minority races, religions, and sexual orientations.
The Supreme Court has indeed recognized that speech in K-12 public schools must be somewhat more restrictable than speech on the street. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) made clear that student speech might be restricted when it’s likely to substantially disrupt the educational process. And sometimes speech that’s hostile based on race, religion, or sexual orientation — as well as speech that offends people for a wide variety of other reasons — might indeed lead to substantial disruption.
But this is at least a facially viewpoint-neutral standard that potentially applies to speech on all perspectives, and doesn’t categorically cast out certain student viewpoints from First Amendment protection. While the standard isn’t without its problems, it is at least basically consistent with the First Amendment principle of “equality of status in the field of ideas.”
Yet the majority specifically refrains from relying on this principle (and Judge Kozinski’s dissent points out that on the facts of this case, there wasn’t enough of a showing that the speech would likely cause disruption). Instead, Judge Reinhardt takes some unelaborated remarks by the Supreme Court about the First Amendment’s not protecting student speech that “intrudes upon . . . the rights of other students,” and fashions from them a constitutionally recognized right to be free from certain kinds of offensive viewpoints (not a right that is itself directly legally enforceable, but a right that the school may choose to assert as a justification for its viewpoint-based speech restrictions).
This is a very bad ruling, I think. It’s a dangerous retreat from our tradition that the First Amendment is viewpoint-neutral. It’s an opening to a First Amendment limited by rights to be free from offensive viewpoints. It’s a tool for suppression of one side of public debates (about same-sex marriage, about Islam, quite likely about illegal immigration, and more) while the other side remains constitutionally protected and even encouraged by the government.