Monday, August 29, 2011

A Touch of the Divine in Florida

Whether or not you've heard of Jerry Buell, in a few minutes you're going to find it hard to forget him.

Buell is a high school teacher in Mount Dora, Fla., who posted on Facebook that he "almost threw up" when he heard about New York's legalization of gay marriage.  He said same-sex unions were part of a "cesspool," and called them a "sin."

In other words, he holds mild opinions on the subject.

A U.S. history instructor, Buell was suspended from the classroom and reassigned, the Orlando Sentinel reported, while the school district investigated whether he violated an ethics policy that calls for educators to value the "worth and dignity of every person."

Even those persons who make you want to toss your cookies.

Buell said his gay students "know that I don't hate them.  I love them."  He said his Facebook post didn't spring from hatred.  "It was about the way I interpret things."

Indeed.  He interpreted gay marriage rights as cause for Dramamine.

The ACLU stated Buell had the right to say what he pleased.  The mega-conservative Liberty Counsel also argued for Buell's right to off-gas on Facebook.

After a weeklong investigation, the Lake County Schools superintendent reinstated him.  A "written directive" was put in his file, but so far it's unknown whether the directive is a reprimand, a warning or a recipe for sponge cake.

A nanosecond after Buell was reinstated, a new controversy arose.  The school district turned its attention to whether he monkeyed around with the constitutional separation of church and state.

On his syllabus, Buell included this heads up to students:  "I teach God's truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, 'cause I ain't changing!"  And on a different document Buell labeled the classroom his "mission field."

Call me crazy, but I think a wee bit of his faith has crept into the fella's teaching.

By way of another tiny hint, Buell wrote on his school webpage that he tries to "teach and lead my students as if Lake Co. Schools had hired Jesus Christ himself."

What does that mean?  Does Buell hand out loaves and fishes in the cafeteria?  Is he given to healing the sick in the school nurse's office?  Perhaps he trots down to the biology class to raise dissected frogs from the dead.  Or, when the swim team isn't hogging it, he walks on the pool.

I would think God would command a higher salary than the school system could afford.  On the other hand, wouldn't Jesus teach for free?  And have no need of a 401(k)?

At any rate, I can report that last year Buell was named Mount Dora High School's Teacher of the Year.  He wasn’t named Deity of the Year.

A lawyer from the Liberty Counsel is representing Buell, and the organization staged a rally at which, fighting tears, Buell said, "I'm a social studies teacher, and I knew what the heck I was doing."

I should hope so.  If he wants to reek of divinity, being all-knowing is a basic requirement.

"There's a thing in this country called the First Amendment," he told the crowd. "I firmly believe in the right to express my opinions passionately."

Expressing his religious opinions so passionately in a public school might strike you as a clear violation of the separation of church and state, and you might think those opinions are a threat to LGBT students, as well as other types of students.

But the rules are different for God's stand-in.  Buell's position is stressful—he must teach history, figure out who's skipping class and model holiness all at the same time.  Uneasy lies the head that wears a halo.