Apparently I missed another “media firestorm,” so allow me to catch up, particularly since the analysis of this story has been muddled beyond comprehension.
Patricia Jannuzzi, a religion teacher at Somerville’s Immaculata High School, posted this on her personal Facebook page:
This being the internet, after all, someone sent it far and wide, with resulting embarrassment to the school. Jannuzzi, a theology teacher with Immaculata for 33 years, was ordered to de-activate her Facebook page after an online petition demanded that she be punished. Jannuzzi was placed on administrative leave, and the school administration notified alumni, parents and students, in a letter that said in part,
“This episode has reflected not only on this teacher but, by extension, on Immaculata High SchoolWe regret deeply any hurt this has caused to any individuals and the negative light in which it has cast our school….Although these were posts to a personal social media page, Immaculata High School recognizes the need to ensure that our faculty, staff and students full understand the behaviors expected of them as members of our community and recognize our intolerance of discriminatory behaviors of any kind.”
1. I doubt that the school was shocked at the teacher’s attitude, or particularly disagreed with it. The Catholic Church’s official position, after all, is still that homosexuality is a sin. Jannuzzi made two errors: she made statements that undermined the school’s ability to attract tuition-paying non-Catholic students, and she fatally undermined her trust with any students that might be gay. She didn’t discriminate by posting her views, and obviously hasn’t discriminated (as far as the school knows) in thirty years.
2. The school’s letter was disingenuous, carefully crafted to mislead. It really says that teachers are not supposed to be open about the Church’s position on gays, not that her position is unacceptable or contrary to Catholic tenets.
3. I hate to pick on blogger and self-exiled commenter here Barry Deutsch, a.k.a Ampersand—okay, not really—but he botched this one big time, arguing that for the school to make the teacher take down her Facebook page was “censorship”:
“But, according to the school, the kind of thinking she posts on her Facebook page isn’t reflected in her teaching. So it’s really shouldn’t be any of the school’s business.“…the school said it took ‘immediate action’ and ‘mandated that the teacher involved permanently de-active her Facebook page.’” Now that’s censorship. “Mandated.” From the left or the right, this sort of intrusive attack on employee’s freedom by bosses should scare us all to death. Apparently the people who run Immaculata High School don’t understand that just because you give someone a paycheck doesn’t give you a moral right to control what your employees think or write outside of work.
Because you’re an employee doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make you a serf. And the fact that we depend on our jobs to pay our rent (or mortgage) and eat makes a boss “mandating” what we say inherently coercive. This is disgusting. In a country that really valued free speech, there’d be an enormous wave of revulsion every time a boss acts this way.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong:
- It is the school’s business when a teacher publicly proclaims attitudes that reasonably would lead a gay student or parents of a student to distrust her fairness, respect and good intentions toward that student. I discussed this exact issue in the case of Jerry Buell, a veteran high school teacher who had been named his district’s ‘Teacher of the Year,” who was suspended indefinitely in 2011 by Lake County, Florida’s Mount Dora High School for posting an anti-gay marriage rant on his Facebook page. I wrote:
“He is welcome to his opinion. He has an absolute right to it. However, he does not have a right to be allowed to teach students, several or many of whom may be gay, after voluntarily allowing it to become public knowledge that he is disgusted by gays and considers them sinful. The school is right to remove him from his teaching duties, and it will be right to tell him that he will not be permitted to teach in the school again. This isn’t a free speech question, for the Constitution’s free speech guarantee only means that speech can not be punished and restrained by government action, not that it is insulated from the consequences that result from it.”
- No, Barry, that’s NOT censorship. She has a choice: take down Facebook, or find another job, because the school quite reasonably doesn’t trust that she won’t use Facebook to embarrass the school again. Moreover, a Catholic school isn’t a government entity: First Amendment protection doesn’t apply. Nevertheless, any school could tell a teacher that she can’t post anti-gay rants, or racist rants, or attacks on individual students, on blogs and Facebook. And should. The speech interferes with the job.
- That paycheck gives employers a right to make certain that non-work related conduct doesn’t reduce the employee’s value or undermine his or her duties. I just wrote about the guy who was fired for abusing a fast food employee on a video. He deserved to be fired (did Barry get upset when he was?), and Jannuzzi’s conduct more directly affected her job than the executive’s video adversely affected his.
- Nobody mandated what the teacher had to say; it made clear what she could not say while employed as a teacher. Her employer rightly decided that what she wrote damaged the school, hurt its students and diminished her. It demanded that she not do this it again, and the only way to ensure that was to tell her to get off Facebook, or else.
4. The school was obligated to fire Jannuzzi, not to take away her Facebook privileges. That it did not is a smoking gun indication that the school has no problem with what she believes, just that she expressed her beliefs in public. A responsible and caring school, which this is clearly not, would have to dismiss her:
- She has made it clear to any gay students she may have that she believes them to be unhealthy and part of a plot to destroy civilization. How can they trust such a teacher ever again?
- As a long-time faculty member, she had raised the rebuttable presumption that she reflects the predominant beliefs and biases of the school itself.
- Finally, as a role model, her stated anti-gay animus legitimizes homophobia on the part of her non-gay students.