A Wisconsin high school is in the middle of a free speech debate after they apologized for publishing a student essay opposing gay families who adopt children. School officials called the essay a form of “bullying and disrespect.”
The column ran on the editorial page of the Shawano High School student newspaper. It was part of an op-ed featuring a student supporting gay families who adopt children and one opposed to the idea.
The student who opposed gay adoptions cited Bible passages that called homosexuality and sin punishable by death.
“If one is a practicing Christian, Jesus states in the Bible that homosexuality is (a) detestable act and sin which makes adopting wrong for homosexuals because you would be raising the child in a sin-filled environment,” the student wrote.
The school district profusely apologized after a gay couple – who has a child at the school – complained.
“This is why kids commit suicide,” Nick Uttecht told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “When I saw this I was in shock.”
The school district released a statement apologizing for the story.
“Offensive articles cultivating a negative environment of disrespect are not appropriate or condoned by the Shawano School District,” the statement read. “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended and are taking steps to prevent items of this nature from happening in the future.”
Todd Carlson, the superintendent of the Shawano School District told Fox News & Commentary he was shocked by the article.
“We do apologize,” Carlson said. “We have a responsibility as a school district to make sure we create a positive school climate and culture. This article probably didn’t go along with the policies and the guidelines and the practices that we have as a school district.”
But the school district only took issue with one of the opinion pieces – the one opposed to gays adopting children. That’s because Carlson said the essay is a form of bullying.
“It is a form of bullying or disrespect to a group of people – that’s right,” he said.
The school district did not comply with a request to read the entire essay – and they declined to say if the student who wrote the essay would be punished.
“Our efforts have been placed to make sure that items of this nature don’t happen in the future,” Carlson told Fox News & Commentary. “We have this responsibility to create a positive environment for all.”
However, critics said removing the opinion piece is a form of censorship.
“I hope they won’t squash any political viewpoints because of this,” David Hudson, of the First Amendment Center told USA Today. “Bullying is a serious concern, and I don’t take it lightly. But I hope it doesn’t lead to squashing different viewpoints. I do think (gay adoption) is an issue people are deeply divided about. Hopefully, student journalists don’t have to fear they’ll be squashed if they take a controversial view.”
Carlson told Fox News & Commentary this is not a case of censorship.
“It is not a freedom of speech issue,” he said. “I know some are trying to make it that. It’s our policy that we are concerned about – not to create disrespect and bullying and harassment.”
At least one university professor believes the school district did the right thing by apologizing for a student’s personal opinion.
“To see something like this debated in the paper could be devastating,” Christine Smith, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay told USA Today. “How would you feel if someone said your family is abnormal, is not acceptable, that your parents never should have been allowed to have you, that they’re not suitable to raise you?”