The Fable of the Gay-bashing Florida Teacher: Freedom of Speech Isn’t a Cure-All Excuse

Just because you HAVE freedom of speech doesn't mean you should use it, especially when you represent someone else.

By , Columnist

Once upon a time, a high school teacher in Mount Dora, Florida, had his classroom stolen after he called gay marriage a “cesspool” on Facebook. After he had learned how the stubborn liberals in New York had legitimized the institution, Jerry Buell ranted and raved, raved and ranted about legalized sin and how he “almost threw up” when he heard the bill had passed!

facebook1.jpgUnfortunately for the poor little angry high school teacher, it wasn’t homophobic vomiting that got him into trouble. Mr. Buell became a victim of… the dreaded word "vomit."

And his employer, the high and mighty Mount Dora School Board, didn’t like it, not one little bit, not even at all.

(And here I thought that verbal vomit through social media was a plague limited to twentysomethings. Anyway…)

Mr. Buell was very upset and came up with all kinds of excuses for his offensive homophobic ranting. He said he was off the clock. He whined that had only spoken on his personal Facebook page. And then he cited the all-powerful 1st Amendment, which has protected people who have said far worse.

Now, usually Mr. Buell would be right. Usually, no one cares what one little high school teacher’s views on life in general or gay marriage in particular are.

But Mr. Buell was taught a new lesson, and it was this: as a teacher, it was assumed that he was seen by his neighbors as a face of Mount Dora education, and since the ideal educational standards of the fine district of Mount Dora don’t include bigotry and hateful language, the school board has the right to determine what’s said on its (perceived) behalf.

You know what’s great about fables like this one, kiddies? They apply in SO MANY settings!

To get serious for a second, there’s been a lot of talk about recruiters and prospective employers using social media to weed out undesirable candidates from the job pool, but just as many companies are monitoring the online musings of current employees, making sure that they’re being well-represented both on and off the clock. While Twitter and Facebook encourage sharing every little thought, clearly it’s a better idea now than ever to use a bit of common sense when you post:

- Don’t friend coworkers. This is an easy, easy fix, kids.

- Up your Facebook privacy settings so friends of friends can’t see your status updates. This will make sure that no one unintended “overhears” you. Also, if you want to share something controversial with a likeminded friend through any medium, do it through a private message to avoid third parties butting in.

- Watch your mouth. Racism, bigotry based on religion or sexual orientation, sexism, and excessive profanity should all probably be avoided. After all, whether it’s a tattle-tale who wants to get you demoted or an overly-sensitive boss (or, hell, your mother could do this, too), anyone can take advantage of or simply misinterpret what you say and make you wish there were an “undo” button for life in general.

- If you said it, it’s your fault. If you get called down for your content, it’s not your HR rep’s, boss’s, or coworker’s fault. It’s just as much your responsibility as if you’d said whatever negative comment you typed directly to your supervisor’s face.

The moral of this story? No excuses, no calling in of amendments - learn from your mistakes (or those of others… hint hint!) and preemptively bite your proverbial tongue.

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Emmie Scott is an English major-turned-marketing exec, with a passion for writing, humor, sharing knowledge, and "pink drinks." After hours, she started Are Toe Rings Professional Attire?, a blog for college grads and twenty-somethings looking to find their way through that daunting labyrinth called…

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