When Classrooms are Pulpits for Bullies

On June 19, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled in favor of a high school student named Daniel Glowacki, who had charged that his high school teacher, Jay McDowell, had violated his constitutional right to freedom of speech. He was granted one dollar in compensation. The court’s verdict, in vulgar terms, was that the pig had the right to say what he said.

The facts, according to the court’s judgment, are these.

On October 20, 2011, the Gay Straight Alliance at Howell High School planned to take part in a national “campaign aimed at raising awareness of the bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth.” The court acknowledges that the day is also called “Spirit Day,” which, the plaintiffs contended, is so-called to foster acceptance in the public schools of the homosexual lifestyle. The Gay Straight Alliance made up flyers to be posted all around the school, urging students to wear purple on that day as a sign of their solidarity with homosexual teenagers. The principal approved the flyer.

Wendy Hiller, one of the teachers, printed a batch of purple T-shirts, reading “Tyler’s Army” on the front and “Fighting Evil with Kindness” on the back. She had, in the past, worn a black shirt reading “Tyler’s Army.” The name refers to Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers who took his own life after his roommate had secretly filmed him in a homosexual encounter. Hiller, says the court, in evident agreement, did not believe that the shirts would be controversial, since the topic was bullying and not homosexuality. Hiller sold some of the shirts to other teachers at cost.

Jay McDowell, an economics teacher, bought one of those shirts and wore it in class that day. McDowell then showed his students a video about a gay teenager who committed suicide, and devoted the rest of the class period to discussion.

Daniel entered McDowell’s classroom for the sixth period that day. McDowell noticed that one of the girls in class was wearing a belt buckle with the Confederate flag. He ordered her to take it off, because it offended him. Daniel then asked the obvious question. Why should it be all right for so many students and teachers to wear the purple T-shirts, but not all right for the girl to wear the belt buckle?

Consider the great difference here in boldness and specificity and intention. The belt buckle expresses a feeling of pride or affection for the American South. It is small. It does not demand to be noticed and read. It does not say anything. It is not a part of a school-wide campaign. It is not as if the student, together with others throughout the school, wore it on her shirt, with the words, “The South shall rise again.” It is also a private thing; she is just one student.

McDowell then, predictably, told Glowacki that the Confederate flag was a symbol of hateful things, like “the slashing and hanging of [African Americans].” It was discriminatory against blacks. Glowacki responded that the purple T-shirts were discriminatory against Catholics. This prompted a heated exchange. The young man is no theologian, and the teacher no moral philosopher. McDowell says that he told Glowacki that it was all right if his religion said that homosexual behavior was wrong, but that Glowacki could not say that in class. He also says, missing the illogic and the aggressiveness of his statement, that he told Glowacki that to say “I don’t accept gays” is like saying “I don’t accept blacks.” When Glowacki replied, “I don’t accept gays,” McDowell threw him out and began disciplinary action against him.

The parents complained, and McDowell was issued a reprimand: “You disciplined two students for holding and stating personal beliefs, to which you disagree. You disciplined them in anger under the guise of harassment and bullying because you opposed their religious belief and were offended by it. The students were causing no disruption.” Indeed, the reprimand specifically states that McDowell attempted to get Daniel to “recant,” and notes the irony that this should occur on a day devoted to fighting bullies.

What happened to Daniel after that is instructive, and does not enter the court’s opinion, though it easily might have, since it provides abundant evidence for the plaintiff’s contention that the Anti-Bullying Day was really a Pro-Gay Day, and that Jay McDowell was himself a bully. McDowell went on television claiming that Glowacki had entered the classroom spewing epithets against gays—a claim which, if true, the court would certainly have seized upon. Glowacki was (and continues to be) vilified across the nation. The lesbian Ellen DeGeneres featured a gay student on her television show who testified for McDowell in the disciplinary hearings.

There are two points I wish to make. The first is that the superintendent’s ironical insight did not go nearly far enough—the bullying was not limited to that incident in the classroom. The second is that the state is acting as a church, engaged in catechesis. The superintendent was correct; no student should be constrained to make an auto da fé. Those confessions, rather, ought to be procured over years of badgering, cajoling, wheedling, insinuating, urging, tempting, persuading, ridiculing, debating, by all means fair and foul, so long as the façade of “objectivity” and religious “neutrality” and “respect” for the students—but never for the parents!—be maintained.

On the bullying: the students know that what is going on here is the advocacy of homosexual activity. Many people are bullied, for all kinds of reasons—for being fat, or stupid, or poor, or ugly. If the school wishes to teach gallantry and kindness, why not do so with as broad a sweep as possible? But the teachers and students chose Tyler Clementi as their cause célèbre.

Homosexual activists do not say that Clementi was merely the victim of a nasty roommate. Their point—as the students at Howell High School no doubt were made well aware—is that Clementi was the victim of a general disapproval of his behavior. That is, any disapproval of the homosexual life is to be construed as homophobic, without regard to reasons or persons. That is precisely the message conveyed by the purple T-shirts.

The message may be unfolded thus. If you do not wear this shirt, or if you do not approve of the life it celebrates, you are evil. You’re a bully. You want people like Tyler Clementi to die. The superintendent, but not the court, notes that Glowacki was held up to opprobrium in the classroom.

Neither the superintendent nor the court expresses any concern about the massive contradiction that McDowell could order a student to remove a belt buckle because it might create a hostile environment for some other students, while not noticing that the entire school bristles with hostility against Catholics, evangelical Protestants, orthodox Jews, and anybody else who holds that sexual intercourse is to be bound within marriage, between a man and a woman.

Which brings me to my second point. If I hire a man to teach my son economics, I’d be shocked to learn that he’d been using his position to run down my faith. Granted that students, because of their age and the special circumstances, do not possess complete freedom of expression in school, it is equally true that teachers and schools must not capitalize upon their strength, their numbers, and their separation from the home, to advocate what is essentially a religion, with its (peculiar and incoherent) set of universal demands and condemnations.

Suppose it were not a Confederate belt buckle that McDowell had ordered removed, but a placard reading “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” That commandment—nowadays not controversial, though we obey it no better than any generation ever has—would be proscribed, as “religious” speech. But “thou shalt not disapprove publicly of the homosexual lifestyle,” which is what “Tyler’s Army” means, and in an aggressive and accusatory way, with the aim of silencing those who might disagree, and humiliating those who might express that disagreement—that is plastered all over the school and on the bodies of the teachers themselves, the masters, whom the students are supposed to respect or at least tolerate, since their future in part rests in those teachers’ hands.

What gives these schools the right to engage in that catechesis? The business of the public school is akin to the business of a group of tutors hired by a group of parents. It has become, instead, the business of a group of self-imagined forward-thinking missionaries introducing students to their new and enlightened world, against the supposed inertia and ignorance of parents, pastors, and the great majority of moral philosophers and theologians older than yesterday.

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared August 12, 2013 in Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute, and is reprinted with permission.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    As Prof Martínez-Torrón said in the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, “the State may promote ethical values that are implicit in or derived from human rights and basic constitutional principles. This is, no doubt, a sort of moral indoctrination by the State, because human rights and certain constitutional principles are clearly based on moral values. When, for example, we preach equality of legal treatment for all individuals, irrespective of their religion, race, sex, national origin, et cetera, we derive that principle from a particular moral conception of human beings, namely the equal moral dignity of human beings. The State can—and probably must—promote the teaching of these values in school.”

    What it cannot do is to demand internal adherence to these values, for this is “something that belongs to the exclusive realm of each individual’s choice and is protected by the freedom of religion or belief (it is the realm of what the European Court of Human Rights has called the forum internum, on which no limitation can be imposed by the State).” The state cannot function without establishing and enforcing certain values as a point of reference in the public sphere or in organizing social or civic life; what it cannot do is demand internal assent, as opposed to outward observance.

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      The State can never promote “the equal moral dignity of human beings” since it would then have to drop its support of abortion.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Consider the Veil Law, introducing legal abortion in France (Law No. 75-17 of January 1975, concerning the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy). Art 1 declares, “The law guarantees respect for every human being from the outset of life. There shall be no derogation from this principle except in cases of necessity and under the conditions laid down by this Law.”

        Here you have the principle solemnly affirmed in the abortion law itself. This reflects Art 16 of the Code Civil, “Legislation ensures the primacy of the person [la personne], prohibits any infringement of the latter’s dignity and guarantees respect for the human being [l’être humain] from the outset of life.” According to most jurists, “person” and “human being” are here synonymous.

        • PiusFan

          If you choose to turn your back on Mirari Vos and Immortale Dei and engage in theological contrivances of contingent relativisms to hollow out holy teaching and ingratiate oneself with at least some aspects of the French Revolution, then you shouldn’t be mystified or upset when the Revolution lives out its raison d’etre.

          • david

            eschew obfuscation 🙂

      • slainte

        The state merely redefines the meaning of the term “human being” to exclude certain classes of that category and, voila, it is in compliance with promoting “equal moral dignity of human beings”.

        Such is the world that we now live in.

      • billy

        And what are you doing about it to make YOUR voice heard? Probably nothing.

  • Janet C

    I am physically sick of all of the gay ally rainbow signs and stickers in my place of work. I feel pressured to put one up myself but will never do so. What is this world coming to?

    • billy

      And what are you doing about it to make YOUR voice heard? Probably nothing.

    • Anna Githens

      What’s particularly upsetting is that the rainbow is a sign of God’s fidelity to His people. “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth'” (Genesis 9:12-13).
      It has been hyjacked in such a disparaging way.

      • Vivianne

        Evil tries to use good to advance itself….

  • Catherine

    Perhaps the Catholics in the school could have worn some blue ‘Legion of Mary’ t-shirts that day–to contrast the purple ‘Tyler’s Army’. I would like the school and the courts to explain the difference. School’s, even public schools, should be safe places for children.

    • tamsin

      How about “Angelic Warfare Confraternity” on the front?
      “Fighting Sexual Sin with Chastity” on the back?

      • Catherine

        : ). Or….”evangelizing Truth in Charity”.

      • billy

        Is that REALLY what you’re doing? Or are you just ACTING like you’re going to do it, and then do nothing at all?

        • Biff Spiff

          And what are you doing, billy?

        • Catherine

          Ahh, treasure in heaven!

        • david

          good point. but then what are, or have, any of us done. I would guess nothing at all or we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in. How does that go? “All that is required for evil to succeed …”

        • Justin Jurek

          All that’s needed to get the process going is for someone to ask what it means and let the Holy Spirit lead from there 🙂

  • Bo Placebo

    Congratulations to Daniel Glowacki for standing up to a bullying teacher. I’m not sure from the article if he understood the difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts but he was nevertheless brave. I have a teacher in the family and have learned through her and others how teachers are very much in the grip of politically correct notions – particularly in Canada.

    • Vivianne

      Yes, Daniel is a courageous, intelligent young man!

  • Pay

    As the piece shows these groups are nothing but propaganda promoters. Bullying is little more than a code word these days.

  • hombre111

    I agree with Dr. Esolen. Public school teachers walk a fine line in a multi cultural/politically divided society and it is not their duty or responsibility to push some kind of agenda and punish students who disagree. While I find the Confederate flag and all it represents appalling, it was wrong for the teacher to humiliate the student. If a student was loudly spouting anti-gay rhetoric, what the teacher does next is more problematic. As a teacher, I enjoyed students who spoke their own mind, even when they disagreed with me. I would simply have summarized the young man’s point so he knew that I respected and understood him, and then gone on.

    • smokes

      Nothings said of the wealth accumulated in slaving and “the China trade” by Northerners well into the 20th century. They still have some restrictive covenants to keep folks separate. And there is something to be said for state rights and the 10th Amendment. Do you really think slavery would have lasted another decade if the GOP hadn’t started that damn war? (Parenthetically, the factory owners likes having cheaper freed slaves, instead of those Irish Catholics…so they fired the Irishers and hired the Blacks). I doubt it, given advances in farm machinery and simple moral suasion. We do still have slavery in Muslim and Hindu lands…and no one says a word!

      • tony

        excellent point, i also point out the hypocrisy of the north acting so high and mighty and the south was so evil for slavery, then after the war going about exterminating native americans, nothing is ever said about that, they actually gave orders to kill all indian males considered old enough to fight, and that was up to enterpretation of field commanders, and your right too that the point that is never talked about is alot of poeple in the south saw the industrial boom in the north, and were having doubts about it, there was discussion about it, and it would have died out for economical and moral reasons, but all you hear is “oh the blessed union defeated the evil old confederacy” glad there are some poeple who knows what really went on, the liberals cant brain wash us all. good post!

  • Mack

    Yes, but did anyone here vote in his or her last school board election?

  • James Hebert

    I think any good Catholic, whether gay or not would have done exactly as this young boy did and stand up defending the Catholic faith with integrity and dignity

  • leogirl87

    Although it is a tragedy when any kid commits suicide, this boy had no business making a sex tape or being sexually active at such a young age (13-14). I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t have some deeper issues that needed to be resolved through counseling. Sexual activity at an early age is a huge red flag. They are looking for love in the wrong places. LGBT teens on average become sexually active earlier and have more partners than their heterosexual peers. Suicide is often a sign of mental illness (they couldn’t cope with their problems so they believed that taking their own life was the best/only solution). And of course the tape should have been reported to the authorities because it is child pornography, which is illegal. 🙁

    • Faithr

      I think you read the facts wrong. The guy who made the sex tape was a freshman in college and apparently made it of his college roommate, but for some reason the teachers in the high school decided to make his name a rallying cry for no bullying at the high school level.

  • Alphonsus

    About 25 years ago, an undergraduate student who worked in my lab brought me this story. He had enrolled in the human sexuality gen ed course. About halfway through the
    semester, the topic turned to homosexual acts. Apparently every fiber of his
    self-control was frayed during the lectures on that topic, which disgusted him.
    He snapped during the exam when he came to the questions that required him to
    write detailed descriptions of those acts. Even though he gathered all his
    strength, his revulsion was so great from having to hold the images in his mind
    that he finally stood up, tore the test into pieces, hurled his pack of
    cigarettes against the wall, and stormed out. He never went back to that class
    but I was able to convince him to drop the course before it hurt his GPA.

    Again, that was 25 years ago and at a public university. It was apparent even then that education was becoming entangled with homosexualism in a way that presented a barrier to those who would/could not go along in agreement. And this is but one of the many current homosexualist phalanxes that stand to impale a person who seeks a good of society, whether that be education, free speech, free exercise of religion, the
    ability to hold a public office, or simply to live in peace.

    This is the entire point and explanation for why homosexuality seems to be present and celebrated everywhere now. It has become like a sudden tsunamic flood, not because of its supposed virtues that have been suppressed by bigotry through the ages, but because it has become an axe in the hands of those who hold public power, an axe that can be used to chop off the hand of anyone who reaches for the goods of society but
    does not go along with the scam.

    The teachers in Dr. Esolen’s article know on which side is buttered their toast. Rather than being just educators (which is a bad enough thing in the days of teaching to the standardized test!), they have chosen to be cheerleaders for the perverse because they know that helps secure their jobs and advances their careers.

    • Vivianne

      The mantra for teachers should be to do no harm, just as it used to be for doctors! Jesus spoke harshly about those who lead little ones astray!

  • smokes

    Public schools, and their unionized teachers, are going to die out. They’ll surely bankrupt us before they do, though. They’re just propaganda factories where half the kids turn out “uneducated”, if ACT scores are indicative. Let’s move to Catholic-based schools and Catholic-based virtual schools ( with combinations that work) where the parent and the local Church is involved in “educating” as delineated by Cardinal Newman.

    The state is now a horror show.

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  • Jeff Jackson

    A very wordy piece to express a very straightforward and true reality: American public schools are hyper-conformist indoctrination camps with roots in the Prussian socialism of the 19th century. They routinely employ “professionals” as teachers, not always because these folks want to (or can) teach, but so they’re not held to the accountability standards of other degreed professions. That bullying teacher should have been fired, but obviously his tenure stood in the way.
    Of course, there are many decent teachers, but the system is now accented by stupidity like this.

    • MLT

      “A very wordy piece”………. a rather ungracious (not to mention completely inaccurate) description of Dr. Esolen’s thoughtful essay.

  • Pay

    Apparently you can believe anything you want as long as it exactly what the “gay” overlords tell you to believe.

  • John Barba

    History repeats itself, is Glowacki the new face of Saint Thomas Moore

    • Bono95

      There’s only 1 “o” in “More”. 😀

  • Anna Githens

    My heart goes out to that poor kid, Daniel. I commend his bravery. My only hope is that some of his friends stuck by him. Unfortunately people tend to run the other direction when faced with having to combat the PC torrent.

  • athelstane

    Yet another reason not to send your children to public school.

  • FrankW

    Get used to it. This is only going to get worse. Catholic business owners are the next ones on the chopping block. Besides having to stand up against the HHS mandate, there are certain types of small businesses that will either be forced to go along with this, or be tarred and feathered in public.

    What will happen to a Catholic photographer who refuses to work at a so-called same-sex wedding? What about the Catholic card shop owner who refuses to print wedding invitations for a so-called same-sex wedding? How far are we from a discrimination lawsuit against our own Church because of their refusal to recognize gay marriage? If our elected politicians can force us to violate our teachings on sexual morality, they will certainly not shy away from trying to force gay marriage on the Catholic Church. The list of potential conflicts seems endless.

    The attempt to normalize homosexual behavior will continue until enough of those who oppose it finally get fed up with being bullied by the media, pop-culture and (unfortunately) even our most prominent politicians. The current administration in Washington has stated that it is seeking to have gay marriage legalized in all 50 states within five years. The only way that happens is through the courts. If it does happen, what are those of us who hold to the truth about marriage prepared to do?

  • Art Deco

    One point for precision:

    1. Dharun Ravi did not film Clementi doing anything. He placed a web cam in their shared dorm room after Clementi had asked for exclusive use of the room for time with a pick up. The feed from the web cam could be viewed on the computer of a student across the hall named Molly Wei. Ravi and Wei saw a few seconds of foreplay. At a later point in the afternoon Wei and a small group of female students saw a few seconds of the two half naked. Ravi made an additional attempt to place a web cam in the room after a second request from Clementi.

    2. Clementi’s long hand notebook was never released to the parents or entered into evidence. One might wager the key is in there. His electronic correspondence sheds no light on why he committed suicide as he did not in these postings and messages appear more than mildly perturbed by what Ravi had done. (He did ask the dorm advisor that the two be placed in separate rooms).

    3. The criminal charges against Ravi were largely humbug, but humbug the posturing or fanatical prosecutor successfully sold to the willing crew of bourgeois idiots on the jury. It was left to the judge (surprisingly perhaps) to circumscribe the damage to the defendant of this farrago.

    4. Neither victimization nor misfortune is coterminous with virtue. The behavior of Clementi’s 1st degree relatives has been unedifying (though it could be worse).

  • Art Deco

    The matter should not have ended up in federal court.

    What gets you about this is the sheer mediocrity of the teachers involved (aided and abetted by the principal).

    1. Thomas Sowell has in the past said that the corps of public school teachers is chock-a-block with the intellectually vapid and these non-performers identify with those sorts in the classroom and fritter away company time with a great deal of non-academic mush (like showing a film on an extraneous topic

    2. Conjoin to that the cookie-cutter social ideology these two teachers were trafficking in which was completely unconstrained to any idea of public service – i.e. the notion that other people live in this community and they are stakeholders in the public schools as well.

    3. Which leads to the third point: vulgar and ill-mannered people who fancy they should have a franchise to draw a government salary and turn a public agency into their personal sandbox should be sent to the unemployment line after summary proceedings. The T-shirt vendor should get a letter in her file and be told to go into business for herself on her own time if that is what she wishes to do.

    4. The disgusting aspect of this is that the obnoxious teacher (one might wager) has no understanding of his offense and no means to acquire any understanding.

  • linreis

    ‘the pig had a right’????

  • linreis

    the teachers are just as guilty of bullying as any ‘bully case’ I have heard of EVER.

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  • Mack

    Oh, well, it’s not as if any of you voted in your last school board election. You talk, you type, but you don’t vote.

  • Citizen_Jerry

    As more and more of these outrages happen, I wonder why people haven’t en masse pulled their children out of these indoctrination centers.

  • Valentin

    Why should we cowtow to these unstable fags who will murder themselves because they were bullied? There plenty of stable people who get bullied and don’t commit suicide (as from this article). Seriously though they make conversation around a campfire awkwerd, they make it socially strange to be naked in a shower room, and worst of all most people won’t tell them that rationality is an obligation.

  • sws

    Bullying seems to be standard operating proceedure of “progressives” teaching “tolerance”.

  • Vivianne

    Well said, Anthony!

  • Vivianne

    It is a shame how we are being “railroaded” into this as a nation! Would that we all stood up against it, as did this young man!