The classroom is one of the few places in
which individuals have the ability to freely challenge ideas. Yet,
especially in America’s high schools, it has become common
practice among school administrators to shield students from
confronting potentially controversial issues. Last year, when
Pioneer High School made the decision to host a panel of local
religious leaders on homosexuality and religion, it was a wonderful
and relatively uncommon opportunity for Ann Arbor high school
students to tackle one of the most pressing social and political
issues of the day. However, the event really was not about
diversity at all, as officials repeatedly denied senior Betsy
Hansen her right to express her own opinions at the event. Hansen
sued Ann Arbor Schools last year and won. Last week a federal judge
ordered the Ann Arbor School District to pay $102,738 in damages.
While Hansen’s views on homosexuality are certainly up for
debate and not consistent with those of this page, the district
should have respected her right to have her opinions
represented.

Diana Krankurs

In 2002, Pioneer High School held this panel on homosexuality as
part of its “Diversity Week” and chose to focus this
panel on “Homosexuality and Religion.” The panel,
however, was far from diverse. It included six local clergymen of
various faiths, all of whom held a progressive attitude toward
homosexuality. This prompted Hansen’s disapproval, and she
asked to include an individual that would articulate her religious
belief that homosexuality is wrong.

Despite warnings that Hansen had a legal right to representation
on the panel, Pioneer, after temporarily canceling the event,
decided to proceed as planned. Of even greater concern, the high
school then asked Hansen to remove an objectionable portion of a
speech it invited her to deliver at the opening of Diversity Week.
The speech said, “I completely and whole-heartedly support
racial diversity, but I can’t accept religious and sexual
ideas or actions that are wrong.”

Clearly, the school has an interest in promoting tolerance
toward individuals of all sexual orientations. Growing up gay is
not easy and would no doubt be made that much more difficult by
anti-gay rhetoric being promoted in the school. Yet, while
Hansen’s beliefs do not promote tolerance toward homosexuals,
the topic of the panel dictated that school officials accommodate
her dissenting opinion. Rather than tackling the pressing issue of
tolerance toward homosexuals, the panel was virtually handpicked to
promote the view that homosexuality and religion are compatible
— a discussion that is not best held in a public high school.
Hansen had a right to express her dissenting opinion. School
officials unfortunately chose to censor Hansen’s speech and
ignore her requests.

The concept of a diversity week is a laudable one. Society as a
whole would benefit from exposing high schoolers to a variety of
points of view. In this case, however, Pioneer did the exact
opposite, handpicking the opinions to be presented in order to
promote a particular point of view. As Judge Gerald Rosen pointed
out in his ruling, “This case presents the ironic, and
unfortunate, paradox of a public high school celebrating
‘diversity’ by refusing to permit the presentation to
students of an ‘unwelcomed’ viewpoint.”
Fortunately, while the students at Pioneer may have missed out on a
truly diverse “Diversity Week,” they nonetheless got a
wonderful lesson in the importance of free expression.

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