Did Firing of U.K. Teacher for his Anti-Gay Comments Violate his Rights?

Posted by MK on Apr 12, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

British Flag with Judge's GavelA court in London has upheld a decision banning school teacher Robert Haye from teaching for at least two years.

The case arose after Mr. Haye told a class of 15- to 16-year-old students that gay people live “disgusting” lives. He told an even younger class that “anyone who worships on Sunday is basically worshiping the devil.” Mr. Haye belongs to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which observes Saturday as the Sabbath.

Mr. Haye said in response to the court decision that “Christians are now being persecuted in [the U.K.] for believing in the Bible.” He added that “people are now afraid of being punished for not being politically correct,” and he questioned whether the U.K. was “really” a “free and democratic society.” Mr. Haye must wait two years before he may apply to teach again.

Ignoring for the moment his exaggerated rhetoric, could there be any merit to the claim that the temporary teaching ban violates Mr. Haye’s freedoms of speech or religion?

No. And you don’t have to know anything about the law to understand why.

The key fact here is that Mr. Haye expressed his controversial views during instructional time in the classroom.

Schools, whether public or private, whether in the U.S. or Europe or elsewhere, simply could not function if teachers had unfettered freedom to express their personal views (religiously inspired or not) to students during instructional time. To succeed in their mission, schools need the discretion to discipline or fire teachers who fundamentally undermine the school’s curriculum through their comments in class.

Mr. Haye fantasizes about a world with greater freedom than this, but that fantasy world would in truth be a nightmare.

What if a teacher wished, based on his or her religious beliefs or other strongly held convictions, to tell students in class that racial integration is against God’s plan or that women should not work outside the home (or even attend school)? Does a health-education teacher have a free-speech right to instruct students that HIV does not cause AIDS?

I need not go on with examples, as the point is clear: Any workable application of laws protecting free speech and freedom of religion must leave room for schools to teach what they set out to teach. That means allowing schools to discipline or fire teachers who disregard curricular policies in class.

There will be plenty of more difficult cases, of course, such as those that arise where a teacher makes controversial comments in his or her free time off of campus or on Facebook.

But Mr. Haye’s case is not a tough one, and he would be well advised not to pursue it further.

MK

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