As a teacher-blogger myself, I’m quite aware that while my First Amendment freedoms are absolute, my “right” to a teaching job isn’t. For this reason I self-censor to a small degree–for example, I don’t publish posts highly critical of my district or its officers, and when I do, I try to stick to facts and not suppositions. “Unprofessional conduct” is a gray area, indeed.
I would have to agree with the University of Hawaii, the trial court, and the 9th Circuit (not something I do often!), and conclude that the potential risk to students outweighed this potential teacher’s job training:
A federal appeals court last week ruled that the University of Hawaii was within its rights to deny permission to a candidate for teacher certification to participate in a required student teaching program based on his statements on adult-child sex and on schoolchildren with disabilities.
Mark Oyama — who had a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the time — met the academic requirements in the teacher certification program. But the university found that his statements against bans on adult-child sex and that most special education students were “fakers” made him unsuitable to become a teacher. Oyama sued in federal court, charging that the university violated his First Amendment rights. A lower court rejected his suit, and the appeals court upheld that decision.
In doing so, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said its decision was based primarily on case law about the role colleges and universities play in certifying teachers, and the role of higher education in professional certification. The court stressed that it did not want to act in a way that would limit academic freedom or the right of students to express controversial views. In this case, the appeals court found, the university’s decision was based on national professional standards and specific job requirements for teachers, and thus was constitutional.
Clearly such a ruling, and even the limits it recognizes, could be abused–recall the University of Missouri “litmus test” for social workers, for example. I understand the ruling in the Hawaii case, but guarding against litmus tests for the “wrong” views will require eternal vigilance.