This is one of those stories where it's easier to just quote it than it is to sum it up.
PONCE DE LEON, Fla. - When a high school senior told her principal that students were taunting her for being a lesbian, he told her homosexuality is wrong, outed her to her parents and ordered her to stay away from children.The ACLU sued on behalf of the students, and won of course, but this was the reaction from the local community.
He suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at Ponce de Leon High School, according to court records. And he asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students.
And despite all that, many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.Here's what you did wrong. When a student came to you because she was being taunted, you validated the taunting. You told her she deserved it, and what's more, you invaded the relationship between that student and her parents--and if she hadn't outed herself to them, there was probably a good reason for it. And what's with the ordering her to stay away from children?
But it wasn't quite enough for you to mistreat one student--no, when other students dared show solidarity with their friend, you violated their freedom of speech. Maybe when you're the principal of a school in a rural area, you can feel like a king, where no one will question your orders, but the reality is that people, even minors, have rights that you're not allowed to violate.
The reason Davis felt he had the authority to do this is because, like many fundamentalist Christians, he believes he answers to a higher power, one that doesn't necessarily recognize freedom of speech or the biological reality of homosexuality. The judge got that, to a certain extent.
"I emphasize that Davis's personal and religious views about homosexuality are not issues in this case. Indeed, Davis's opinions and views are consistent with the beliefs of many in Holmes County, in Florida, and in the country," Smoak wrote in an opinion released last month. "Where Davis went wrong was when he endeavored to silence the opinions of his dissenters."What Judge Smoak is saying is that Davis's personal views about homosexuality aren't illegal, but I think they are an issue in the case, in this respect. Davis's belief that his religious views allowed him to trump the rights of his students to speak their minds on a subject that he has only a religious objection to is what caused this mess. If he'd truly understood the nature of the separation between church and state, he'd have known the limits of his power. It's the mindset that cloaks bigotry and hatred in the wrappings of religious rhetoric that makes this kind of mess possible.