Should Gay-Bashing Teacher Lose Job?

Do teachers have to give up their First-Amendment right to free speech when they take their first job? In a strange twist on free speech, the ACLU is defending an ultra-conservative evangelical right-wing Christian's right to gay-bashing hate speech. The case of high-school teacher Viki Knox, the self-described "Jesus freak," reminds us that free speech is a complex issue.

Ms. Knox's school posted a display on a bulletin board recognizing LGBT history month. Ms. Knox was offended and not afraid to say so ... on Facebook. She wrote (emphasis in original):
"Homosexuality is a perverted spirit ... Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us? AND YOU ARE WRONG! I/WE DO NOT HAVE TO ACCEPT ANYTHING, ANYONE. ANY BEHAVIOR OR ANY CHOICES! I DO NOT HAVE TO TOLERATE ANYTHING OTHERS WISH TO DO."
I'm sure all of my readers will agree that Ms. Knox's comments are despicable, hateful, and should be an embarrassment to all civilized Americans. But ... what about free speech? Is Ms. Knox's hateful gay-bashing grounds for firing her? Don't teachers have a right to free speech?

Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, says Ms. Knox shouldn't be fired: "The ACLU believes that the response to offensive speech is not the restriction of speech, but more speech." In other words, the ACLU says Ms. Knox's hate speech should not disqualify her from teaching.

I rarely disagree with the ACLU, but in this case I do. I can't see how Ms. Knox can possibly treat her students fairly given her clear bias against gays and lesbian teens.

One of the most important rights we have as Americans is the freedom to say what we want, without fear of persecution, imprisonment or death (all of which were real fears before the American revolution, and are still fears in many parts of the world). And we also know that our morals, with rare exceptions, are none of our employer's business. As long as we're at work, we do our employer's bidding and act according to our employer's rules. And when we go home, we can be bigots and jerks, and it's none of our employer's concern.

But there are exceptions to this rule. Teachers, welfare workers, judges, law-enforcement officials and politicians have to understand that there is no brick wall between their public and private lives. It's more like a gauze curtain. Even the President of Boeing learned this the hard way.

"But," you might argue, "Ms. Knox is really fair in the classroom. She treats all the students equally. You'd never know from her classroom behavior that she's anti-gay. Let her keep teaching!"

Baloney. Her Facebook comments are sure to infiltrate her classroom. I'd bet a fair sum of money that news of her anti-gay diatribe spread like wildfire through the student body. Her life is only private inside the walls of her own home.

If I were the parent of one of Viki Knox's students, I'd exercise my own right to free speech and talk to my kids and the community about LGBT issues and Ms. Knox's religion-inspired hate speech. It would be an opportunity to explain that once a kid graduates from high school, it's the real world, filled with real people ... and they'll be on their own to face bigots like Ms. Knox.

Ms. Knox has a right to be an anti-gay bigot and to say so, or she has a right to be a teacher. But not both. She can't expect to hurl insults at the entire gay/lesbian community and then teach in a classroom that includes gays and lesbians.