A teacher in the US state of Florida who was suspended for making comments on his personal Facebook page expressing opposition to same-sex marriage has been reinstated.
Social studies teacher Jerry Buell, who was voted Teacher of the Year by pupils at Mount Dora High School last year, has said he plans to use his experience to teach his students and others outside of school about First Amendment rights, his lawyer Harry Mihet told US news website The Christian Post.
Buell wrote on his Facebook page that same-sex unions were a sin.
Officials from the Lake County School District were told about the comments by a former student.
On being informed of the comments, they reassigned Mr Buell to a clerical position at the district office. The teacher missed the first three days of school inside his classroom as a result of the suspension.
Mr Buell’s reinstatement by the district included exoneration from any wrong-doing and came in the form of a personnel communication to the teacher, said Mr Mihet, who is the senior litigation lawyer at Liberty Counsel, which defends religious freedom.
“They concluded that he had not violated any code or statute,” Mr Mihet said. “He is elated to be reinstated, and most importantly to be cleared of any wrong-doing. He feels that his First Amendment rights have been restored and upheld.”
The Constitution and U.S. law is very clear that government should not regulate what teachers or other government employees say on their own time in private and personal capacities, the lawyer said. The law also protects school staff in regards to what they post on social media sites, he said.
“The government may tell Jerry what he can do or say while he is a teacher acting on behalf of the government, but when Jerry clocks out at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and becomes a private citizen, the government cannot tell him what he can think about an issue such as homosexual marriage or what he can say,” Mihet said.
“It doesn’t matter whether Jerry voices his opposition to homosexual marriage in the privacy of his home with one or two people listening, on a Facebook page with 20 friends or 2,000 friends, on a blog, on a radio station, from the rooftop, or the mountain top.
“The First Amendment absolutely protects his privilege to comment on an issue of public importance in public. The First Amendment is meaningless if it only protects speech that no one else can hear or it only protects speech that is warm and fuzzy.”