A California teacher has resigned after sparking outrage in his school district for citing a Bible passage with an anti-gay message in a student newspaper.
Michael Stack, who taught special education at San Luis Obispo High School, wrote a letter to the editor of Expressions responding to the May 2017 edition of the student newspaper, which focused on LGBTQ issues, The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports. The printed version of the issue, which can be viewed below, featured a photograph of two girls kissing.
In his May 9 letter, which is published in full on Expressions’ site, Stack wrote, “The Bible tells us that we are all accountable for our actions, and that teachers are especially accountable.”
The teacher then cited a Bible verse from Romans, 1:16-32, which read in part:
Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
The verse continued: “They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them too.”
Stack concluded the letter by saying he’d written it “in order to lift up those who have stumbled, or may stumble, and put you back on the right path.”
San Luis Obispo High School senior Aric Sweeny, who is the editor-in-chief of Expressions, told local NBC affiliate WKSB 6 that the paper’s staff consulted with a staff adviser after receiving Stack’s letter before ultimately deciding to publish it. “Good journalism includes giving voice to both sides regardless of whether or not I agree with him because I’ll say up front, I disagree with everything he said in the letter to the editor,” Sweeny said. “But I decided to include it anyway because it’s important to give him a voice.”
Nonetheless, Stack’s letter sparked controversy among students and community members immediately after it was posted online May 9.
Among those to speak out was the co-president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, Amber Ernst, who said Stack’s words were “heartbreaking” and “really damaging” for students who may be coming to terms with their sexuality. In a May 10 Facebook post, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon called the teacher’s letter “unacceptable,” and encouraged residents to attend a “solidarity” event that had been organized in support of LGBTQ students after the news broke.
School officials, however, said they weren’t going to pursue disciplinary action against Stack over the letter. “We applaud the high school’s commitment to open dialogue and a free exchange of ideas in its student newspaper,” Superintendent Eric Prater and Principal Leslie O’Connor said in a May 10 joint statement sent to HuffPost. Stack, they said, had been employed on a probationary period, and officials had decided he would not return for the following school year. Still, they said, “In a similar manner, we acknowledge the right of our staff to voice their opinions. Employees, likewise, do not shed their First Amendment rights simply because they work for the school district.”
By the afternoon of May 11, however, Stack resigned, apparently hours after the school received a threat on his life. “The community apparently wants me out, so I hereby grant them their desires,” his letter read, according to The San Luis Obispo Tribune. “I exercised my First Amendment rights and submitted my opinion to a public forum... Now people are exercising THEIR First Amendment rights by responding to that letter. This is how America is designed to function.”
Still, one parent said he was proud of the conversation the controversy had created. “I think parents need to realize that kids are a lot smarter than what some parents give them credit for,” Kenny McCarthy told local news station KRON 4. “Hopefully, this will get positive dialogue, learn from this and move on.”
In a May 12 statement sent to HuffPost, Prater and O’Connor said the school district was taking “proactive steps to ensure” LGBTQ students “feel welcome and affirmed on campus” in the wake of Stack’s departure. “We encourage our students, staff, parents, and community members to understand that this a nuanced matter with many stakeholders, ideas, and opinions and we ask that everyone follow our students’ lead as we continue to hold a positive conversation on this matter going forward,” they wrote.
As for Stack’s students, they’ll reportedly be taught by a substitute teacher for the remainder of the school year.
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