Schools and Employers Want to Muzzle Free Speech

Jennifer Sey

David Stout is a junior at Plainwell High School, a public high school in Michigan. One day, while in school, he engaged in a text messaging conversation with another student. Some of the topics discussed were God’s love for sinners, David’s own love for his friends, the sinfulness of homosexual acts, and David’s contention that there are only two genders. Well, before you could say “First Amendment,” David was suspended for three days. He was informed that speaking about religion, even in a private conversation over text messages, was not allowed. Why? because the conversation might hurt someone’s feelings, and a student who overheard the conversation might feel “unsafe.” Never mind that the conversation took place via text messages, so it would be impossible for anyone to “overhear” it! A faculty member asked David why he didn’t turn himself in to the school administration for having his text message discussion about religion, or for having supposedly laughed at an anti-gay/racist joke told at band camp the year before. David also contends that the band director instructed him to stop sharing his political and religious views on social media.

Needless to say, David’s family is suing the school district for violating David’s First Amendment rights to free speech and to the free exercise of his religion. Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC) is representing David and his family. David Kallman, senior legal counsel for GLJC, said in a press release: “Nothing David did caused any disruption or problem at school. He has the right to express his opinion in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs, without vilification or punishment from the government for holding those beliefs.”

Why are these issues still coming up in schools? These legal questions, I thought, had been settled decades ago. Students do not surrender their Constitutional rights merely by stepping onto the grounds of a public school. The fact that school administrators, who represent the state government, feel empowered by the woke movement to restrict students’ rights is troubling. Even more troubling is the attempt to stifle students from speaking their mind in their private lives, far away from the school or from school activities.

Early in the morning on February 20, 2021, Officer Matthew Schrenger, a 13-year veteran police officer in Louisville, KY, participated in a 40 Days for Life event with his father. Officer Schrenger was off duty when he and his father prayed the rosary on a public sidewalk outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center before the center even opened for the day. Schrenger was in his uniform, but he covered it up with his coat. The Louisville Metro Police Department suspended Schrenger for four months with pay. His police powers were revoked, and an investigation into his activities was initiated. The LMPD said it was concerned that Officer Schrenger participated in “protest activity” while in full uniform, even though other officers had previously participated in LGBT and Black Lives Matters protests in full uniform and while on duty without consequence.

Officer Schrenger sued the mayor, the police chief, and the LMPD in a federal lawsuit. The Thomas More Society, representing Schrenger, said the city’s actions against him were, “a significant and inexcusable violation of a loyal officer’s Constitutional rights.” The Thomas More Society added that, “The unfair discipline revealed undeniably content-based discrimination against Officer Schrenger’s personal pro-life views and violated his First Amendment rights. He did not engage in any political protest on duty – he prayed quietly. Yet Officer Schrenger was punished for this peaceful, private behavior.” Last month, Officer Schrenger was awarded a $75,000 settlement from the city.

No one could describe Jennifer Sey as anything but a full-fledged political liberal. A supporter of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, she wrote supportively of the threats to Black lives from over-aggressive police and marched in Pride parades. She was a rising star in Levi’s, a company for whom she worked for twenty years and for which she was told she was on track to possibly becoming CEO. All of that came to an end when COVID hit and Sey began speaking out against school closures, reading the research that demonstrated negative consequences for kids from distance learning and the remote risk to students, faculty and families from keeping schools open (as most private schools did).

Sey was regularly asked by her supervisors at Levi’s to keep quiet about the matter. Sey insisted that she was representing only herself, not her employer, when she spoke publicly against school closings. She refrained from identifying herself with Levi’s whenever she wrote or spoke on the matter. All of this to no avail. When she appeared on the Laura Ingraham program, it proved the final straw. Though Levi’s regularly took public stands on political issues, such as gun rights, gay rights, and voting rights, the right students had to an effective education was a bridge too far for them. The Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Levi’s called Sey and asked that she do an “apology tour.” She was told that she “was not a friend of the Black community at Levi’s,” and that she was to publicly identify herself as “an imperfect ally.” Why? How does being opposed to school closings make one not a friend of the Black community or an imperfect ally? Because, the illogic goes, public schools are mostly made up of Black and Brown children. So, Sey’s opposition to closing the schools was interpreted as her being willing to put these Black and Brown children at risk. Never mind that Sey insisted that she was fighting for her own four children’s right to attend school and receive an excellent education. She refused to apologize.

Finally, Sey received a call informing her that her position at Levi’s was “untenable.” She was offered a severance package of $1 million. She refused this, because she knew it would mean signing a non-disclosure agreement, and she would not settle for being silent. So, she lost her job, but she kept her voice.

Attempts by schools and employers to muzzle the free speech of their students and employees is a troubling trend. Somehow, these institutions have gotten into their heads that that they are the ones who extend civil rights to those they teach or employ and, as such, they can revoke those rights at their whim. In the past, this sort of thing was done of the basis of skin color. Outright racism ruled the day for schools and many companies. Now, it seems, the basis for acceptable discrimination is one’s willingness to vocalize one’s political, social, or religious views. If the school or company doesn’t like what you have to say, they feel empowered to shut you up, or try to. They demand that you toe the line or keep quiet. Repeat the party’s bullet points or shut up. Agree or get lost.

Most of the agenda to which schools and employers demand allegiance is inspired by the ever- expanding demands of the woke mob. For employers, much of this is motivated by their fear of being called out, cancelled or boycotted by the angry crowd. They cower into the corner of submission and insist that their employees do the same. For schools, much of this is motivated by their desire to shape the minds of the young toward a future where meaningful, respectful debate and diverse opinion is replaced by obsequious submission to the ruling class. Dissent will not be tolerated.

Dissent is precisely what is called for. Those devoted to a creed of faith are often ridiculed as unthinking adherents to irrational ideas and superstitions. This was never true, of course. But now we are seeing our public institutions and privately owned companies submit unquestioningly and even counterintuitively to an agenda created by an unthinking, irrational mob of fanatics determined to create society in their dark and angry image. Adopting the tried-and-true methods of past dictatorships and fascist regimes, they scream at the slightest deviation from the true path. This is why dissent is essential, even at the risk of losing one’s job, taking on the authorities, or being the recipient of the rocks thrown by political, social or cultural zombies. Dissent is the only tool we have to resist. Well, dissent and joy in our dissent. Joyful dissent in the face of uncompromising and irrational opposition is the grace that will save us from despair. It may just save our souls and our society.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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