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School newspaper had right to run anti-gay column

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 03:01

 

A Wisconsin high school newspaper drew national attention this month when it ran two opposing opinion columns discussing adoption by same-sex couples.

The Shawano School District officially apologized for running a column arguing that same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to adopt in response to complaints from a local gay couple with school-age children.

"This is why kids commit suicide," said Nick Uttecht, whose son showed him the article, to USA Today. He also called the piece hateful and said it could lead to an increase in bullying.

"Offensive articles cultivating a negative environment of disrespect are not appropriate or condoned by the Shawano School District,  district Superintendent Todd Carlson said in a statement.

Even if some find the student's opinion repugnant, this is an issue of free speech. Opinion columnists should not be worried about offending people, as all columns should be controversial to some extent. There is no point in writing an opinion piece that someone couldn't reasonably disagree with.

The argument could be made that discussions of gay marriage and adoption are not appropriate for a high school forum, but then the pro-same-sex parenting piece shouldn't have been allowed to run either.

While high schools do have some control over student free speech, the student column should fall outside of the school district's jurisdiction. The column shouldn't be censored or labeled as bullying.

"Bullying is a serious concern, and I don't take it lightly," said David Hudson of the advocacy group First Amendment Center to USA Today. "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."

As the blog Open Market pointed out in a recent article, a Christian student successfully challenged a school's harassment code that punished students who called homosexuality morally wrong. The student was vindicated in the 2001 federal appeals court ruling, Saxe v. State College Area School District.

Actual harassment is wrong, but simply stating one's beliefs is a First Amendment right.

Most detractors have highlighted the student's use of the Bible to support his view that homosexuality is morally wrong. There's no denying the fact that same-sex marriage or parenting is so controversial primarily because of its moral ramifications.

The traditional Christian view on homosexuality is no secret, and this shouldn't have been anything new to the column's offended readers. Critics also ignored the student's non-biblical talking points.

The columnist pointed out that same-sex marriage, and by extension adoption, is still largely illegal in the U.S., and he cited an article purporting negative effects on boys raised without fathers.

His supporting arguments apparently met the standards of the editorial board, so there's no real reason why it shouldn't have run. Free speech shouldn't be stifled for fear of offending vocal minorities, or majorities for that matter.

Michael Hardcastle is a senior majoring in creative writing.

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