Some readers have probably not heard of Howell, Michigan, but in this city not too far from our beloved Ace Deuce, high school teacher Jay McDowell was suspended without pay after kicking one of two boys out of his classroom for making homophobic remarks. The school board thought it was a violation of the students’ first amendment rights. In response, fourteen year old Ann Arbor native Graeme Taylor delivered a powerful speech to the Howell School Board about his struggles as a gay teen and how comments such as those made by the boys in McDowell’s classroom lead him to attempt suicide at 9 years old. Taylor urged the school board to repeal their actions against McDowell because of the negative and backward type of message they send.
The first amendment is one of the most important and complicated in our constitution. On one hand, it allows for the unhindered and unpunished exchange of ideas that is so crucial to the function of democracy. Our free speech rights allow for civil disobedience and change; it was because people were unafraid of speaking out that many civil rights movements and protests of injustice could happen in America. On the other hand, the first amendment also forces us to walk the fine and convoluted line between free speech and hate speech. It allows for the existence of KKK rallies, book burnings, and other forms of intolerance.
I wasn’t around in 1787, but it makes sense to me to believe that the founding fathers supported the progression toward a tolerant, egalitarian society. After all, the preamble speaks of a more perfect union, with justice, tranquility, general welfare and the blessings of liberty for all Americans.
I applaud Graeme Taylor for his bravery. At fourteen, he was able to stand up for what he believes in even at the cost of reliving such painful memories and opening himself to the scrutiny of the public eye. In his speech, Graeme Taylor cites the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and states that he too wishes to be judged by the content of his character. In my opinion, he has already done so much to prove his amazing character. Way to go, Graeme!