Hate Speech or Free Speech? Michigan Teacher Challenges Discipline Over Removal of Two Students From Economics Class

This is a terrific speech given by 14-year-old Ann Arbor student Graeme Taylor who is defending Howell High School teacher Jay McDowell, who was disciplined after throwing out two students for anti-gay statements. The controversy, however, gets a bit murkier on closer examination for free speech advocates.

Various groups and individuals have rallied to McDowell’s side, including the teacher’s union, to try to get the board to rescind the disciplinary action against McDowell. The discipline followed an angry exchange with two students about gay rights. However, it began with McDowell demanding that a student remove a belt buckle featuring the confederate flag — a buckle that the teacher found offensive.

The day of the encounter was part of a national Spirit Day held on Oct. 20 — a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation event targeting anti-gay bullying after the recent suicides of six gay teens across the United States. Many students wore shirts supporting the cause.

In the class, junior Daniel Glowacki, 16, argued with McDowell over the fact that another student was wearing a belt buckle with the confederate flag. This was an economics class and led to both Glowacki and another students being ejected for anti-gay sentiments. McDowell was disciplined for deviating from curriculum and violating a student’s First Amendment rights. He was suspended for one day without pay.

The facts remain a bit unclear, but (as to the initial dispute) there is a legitimate free speech issue on which people may disagree. I tend to follow a robust view of free speech rights in schools, particularly with regard to older students like juniors. There are obviously some limits on what a student can wear — particularly with regard to threatening messages or hate speech. However, a confederate flag does not necessarily convey a threatening message. Some people have relatives who served in the Civil War or identify with the confederacy for various reasons. Should a teacher be able to force students to remove such a buckle? How about a Rainbow buckle signifying support for gays and lesbians?

As for the alleged anti-gay statements, few would argue that such comments are a legitimate basis for removal from the classroom. The only mitigating factor would be if the teacher asked for students to share their views of homosexuality.

The school specifically cited rules that told teachers not to pursue personal social issues and to avoid baiting students on controversial issues. This led to some teachers saying that such contemporary issues are appropriate in the classroom. I tend to give teachers a fair amount of leeway, even in an economics class, to discuss such issues but it comes with the risk that students will share contrary views. If a teacher wants to discuss such issues, he or she must also anticipate conflicting views being expressed. In this article, Glowacki said he asked the teacher why the student could not wear the buckle with students around him were wearing the rainbow symbol. He said that McDowell told him that the confederate flag stood for lynchings and asked if Glowacki was anti-gay. He said he was not but agreed to leave with the other student. He still maintains that he is not anti-gay — just pro-free speech.

Source: Livingston Daily

Jonathan Turley

41 thoughts on “Hate Speech or Free Speech? Michigan Teacher Challenges Discipline Over Removal of Two Students From Economics Class”

  1. mespo

    “That asie” is a meaningless editing mistake. It was below the view of my monitor screen when I hit submit button, but I’m glad you gleaned some imaginary meaning from it anyway.

    It is not mean spirited to tell the truth about the state of fascism and totalitarianism in America today especially when it is bearing down heavy on innocent children.

    I say that it is mean-spirited to not talk about it in a frank and open manner.

    It’s too late for me, but I made sure my child wasn’t subjected to the leftist fascists and totalitarians in the public schools.

    Home schooling adequately prepared him/her for the most difficult of college diplomas to acquire.

    It takes only a moderately intelligent person to adequately educate a child at home. Which is why most leftists don’t know how to do it.

    In the main, leftists are too stupid to home school their own children.

  2. Tootie:

    “Now everyone knows the public schools are a fraud and a menace to a free and educated people. People today are without excuse.

    Only fascists and totalitarian creeps support them.

    That asie”


    Nope, nothing mean-spirited in that little autobiographical sketch. One wonders where you’d be without those “menacing” public schools — likely dirt poor and with no education. You’re right. They were terrible for you.

  3. mespo:

    My parents were dirt poor and therefore I attended the public schools. Therein, after thirteen years of continual attendance, I graduated near the top of my class only to find myself in need of remedial courses in all major subjects in order to continue on with college (which I did for a little while).

    I graduated with honors from high school AND at the same time didn’t get an education BECAUSE of John Dewey, his Progressive Education Movement, and the leftist union thugs who ran the school district I attended. This was not my fault or my parents fault. And your insults about my educated are more mean-spirited than anything I have heretofore said.

    Since my parents were working class people (my dad never made it past the 7th grade) they trusted the “professionals” and thought the A’s on my report indicated something resembling the truth as expressed by experts. They didn’t realize something might be totally amiss or fraudulent.

    But that was then and this is now. Now everyone knows the public schools are a fraud and a menace to a free and educated people. People today are without excuse.

    Only fascists and totalitarian creeps support them.

    That asie

  4. TJC

    You cannot prove hate unless someone admits to it.

    When Tiffany says she hate Jack, we have our proof. Until then, no one knows for sure. Anyone who thinks otherwise is nuts. People on the left feel they have the right to determine the feelings of others and that is why we now have true justice undermined by the fake injustic of hate.

    I hope you would have hated Nazism. Hate can be very very good.

    Take the hate nonsense out of the picture and justice becomes clear as a bell ringing.

    The problem is the Federal government verses the state. The feds have no authority in matters of speech and religion and so this cannot be an issue for them.

    Only states and localities have any such power. And only the most irresponsible of states would presume to make these superstitious voodoo determinations about what hate is and apply its powers to them.

    There is nothing tricky or confusing about this. No federal laws against speech or religion can apply in our local totalitarian police-state schools.

    And our local totalitarian police-state schools may destroy its own children as much as the public wishes.

    It’s criminal behavior. But it appears they can get away with it these days.

    Only stupid people put their kids in the public schools these days.

  5. The student might not have even known what the buckle meant and not wanted to admit it. It is a nice graphic image. The belt might have just been something laying around his house that the student used to keep his pants up.

  6. mespo: I have no idea if Marcus believed in freedom of conscience or not. That is why I didn’t say so.

  7. libhomo,

    Could I get a clarification? You said, “I am astonished by the venomously racist and homophobic tone of this blog posting.” Did you mean the Professor’s posting regarding the story or the posting(s) of a commentator? Both? Just curious.

  8. I am astonished by the venomously racist and homophobic tone of this blog posting. Confederate Flag symbols and homophobic comments are deliberate acts of harassment, abuse, and bullying when displayed in the public schools. All Confederate Flag symbols are inherent threats of racist violence.

    Comments saying that someone doesn’t accept gays are deliberate acts of harassment, abuse, and bullying as well. Comparing Rainbow Flags with Confederate Flags also is a deliberate act of harassment, abuse and bullying.

    The teacher did exactly what he was supposed to do. The other students in the classsroom and in the school are a captive audience. They can’t leave, and they are not in a position to defend themselves when they are placed in the kind of abusive environment you want to place them in.

    If a student wore a belt buckle that threatened violence against school administrators or if a student said that they don’t accept school teachers, that student would be disciplined, and there would be no controversy. The only difference here is that prejudice is keeping bigots from accepting what otherwise would be normal classroom order.

    The teacher should get back pay and an award. The superintendent who wrongfully fired the teacher should be fired for promoting harassment, intimidation, and bullying in that district’s schools.

  9. TOOTIE:
    When was the last time a Christian in America was beaten and tied to a barbed wire fence and left to die?

    Tell me, when was the last case of a Christian in America losing their job because of their religious orientation?

    Tell me how many Christians in America are not allowed to serve in the military? How many Christians have been discharged from the military because of their lifestyle?

  10. mid 70’s. hated every minute of it, couldn’t wait to graduate. thought it was bull then and still do now. some of it was in alabama so i saw racism straight from george c wallace. funny thing was with him it was mostly political.

  11. pete

    I’m guessing that was some time ago? 🙂

    How did that work out for you?

    When I was in high school, Brown vs Board of Education was decided in my Junior year. We had to cancel basketball games with WV schools because they still wouldn’t play against our team because we had a Black team captain (also Class President). So I’ve been exposed to hate mongering for almost 60 years and I know it when I see it. And I think it’s as dangerous now as it has always been.

  12. when i was in high school they told us we left our rights at the front door. you don’t have the right to free speech and you don’t have the right not to be searched anytime they wished.

  13. An update:

    [Lindsey Forbes, spokeswoman for the local teachers union, the Howell Education Association, tells The Lookout that McDowell followed school policy in asking for the belt buckle to be removed. Teachers are supposed to ask students to remove “inappropriate” or distracting clothing, she says.

    Confederate flags are not specifically listed as inappropriate, but Forbes says the flag is a symbol of hate, especially in Howell. Two years ago, a group of students were investigated by the Department of Justice for starting a Facebook group that used the Confederate flag as its profile photo and featured hate speech. Two students were suspended. An area north of Howell also had an active Ku Klux Klan membership in the ’70s and ’80s, according to the Livingston County Press.

    “It’s pretty clear in our community what that symbol stands for,” Forbes says.

    McDowell was suspended for one day without pay after the student in question complained about the removal of her belt buckle. The staff attorney for Michigan’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, Jay Kaplan, tells The Lookout that the case represents a “balancing act” between protecting free speech and creating a safe school environment, but that both students were most likely protected by the First Amendment. “Wearing [the Confederate flag] on the belt buckle probably is protected speech,” he said, based on court precedents. “The situation where the student expressed his disapproval of homosexuality is also protected speech.”

    He said the “well-meaning” McDowell should have instead started a discussion about why the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate for so many and how denigrating homosexuality marginalizes gay people. The ACLU has offered to host training sessions for teachers about what the law says.]


    Like Ms. Forbes, I’m pretty sure that every student at Howell MI understands what the Confederate flag symbolizes in their community, but one more conversation wouldn’t hurt.

    I’m just concerned that the ACLU will still be defending every hate monger’s right to free speech while the rest of us are on our way to the reeducation facilities. Can’t happen here, right?

  14. TJColatrella

    “I for one am for The Separation of Church and Hate..”


    That makes two of us.

  15. When Our Founders sought to protect speech in the First Amendment the primary speech they sought to protect first and foremost was Religious and of course Political Speech…

    Now as I saw this teacher on Cable this morning he explained that one of these kids removed from class referenced his religion and that “His religion rejected gays..!”

    Therein lies the rub..

    Was this hate speech, or protected religious speech..?

    Under our Bill of Rights can religious speech be hate speech..?

    We could all argue yes of course, if it incites harm or violence to others but if it is merely an expression of religious belief right or wrong for better or worse can this be considered “hate speech..?”

    Are we free within a school or work context and allowed to express if something conflicts with our religious belief or dogma or do we surrender the Bill of Rights in School or at the work place..?

    I for one am for The Separation of Church and Hate..

    I’ve pretty much had it with organized religion myself, I find a source and enclave of division, discrimination, perversion, misogyny, abuse, fraud and senseless violence..

    Now how does that square with the protections of our 1st Amendment..?

    A Quandary…to say the least…

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