The Viki Knox Debate: Point, Counterpoint

     At certain times in our nation’s history and dialogue, we seem to have the innate ability to provide exactly the counterpoint that is needed for the situation. For example, after the war-dominated and scandal-ridden Nixon administration, our nation needed a Gerald Ford. Ford was a healer, a voice of calm and reason right when we needed one.

     Now, we’ve done it again. In the midst of the whole debate over whether Union High teacher Viki Knox should be fired over the anti-LGBT invectives that she posted to Facebook, another case has emerged, on the opposite side of the political spectrum. In the birthplace of revolution that is Boston, Massachusetts, Suffolk University Law School professor and Constitutional Law attorney Michael Avery has “stirred the pot,” so to speak.

     Responding to a call for donations by a staff member for care packages being sent to U.S. servicemembers overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, professor Avery sent an e-mail out to several of his colleagues, decrying the effort as “shameful.” (The following are selected excerpts from that e-mail, with a link to the entire text at the end:)

     “I think it is shameful that it is perceived as legitimate to solicit in an academic institution for support for men and women who have gone overseas to kill other human beings. I understand that there is a residual sympathy for service members, perhaps engendered by support for troops in World War II, or perhaps from when there was a draft and people with few resources to resist were involuntarily sent to battle. That sympathy is not particularly rational in today’s world, however.”

     “Perhaps some of my colleagues will consider this to be an inappropriate political statement.  But of course the solicitation email was a political statement, although cast as support for student activities. The politics of that solicitation are that war is legitimate, perhaps inevitable, and that patriotic Americans should get behind our troops.”(1)

     Since this story broke a week ago, a number of people have opined on everything from professor Avery’s statements themselves, to his lack of military experience, to whether he, like Viki Knox should be allowed to keep his job. The overwhelming majority of commentary and opinions against professor Avery are coming from those on the political “right,” including current and former servicemembers, spouses, conservative media personalities and politicians. And, as was the case with Viki Knox, pages have already sprung up on Facebook both in support of and in opposition to professor Avery. (It is important to note that the opposition page shows far more activity and “likes” than the support page at this time.)

     Now, before we proceed any further with this, let’s break some of this down into a point / counterpoint view of the facts. Here’s what we know:

  •      Viki Knox is a Special Education teacher at Union High School, in Union Twp., New Jersey.
  •      Michael Avery is a Law Professor at Suffolk University Law School, in Boston, Massachusetts.
  •      Union High School is a secondary educational institution, within the public school system. As such, it is maintained by the government and funded by tax dollars. Its employees are considered government employees, salaried by the school district.
  •      Suffolk University Law School is a private, post-secondary educational institution. Its employees are considered private citizens, salaried by the college.
  •      Viki Knox issued what she knew to be public statements in opposition to LGBT rights and support of the LGBT community, a cause near and dear to the liberal left.
  •      Michael Avery issued what he knew to be public statements in opposition to support of the military, a cause near and dear to the conservative right.
  •      BOTH Viki Knox and Michael Avery issued their statements under the umbrellas of their respective positions as educators. Michael Avery did use, and Viki Knox may have used school-owned computer equipment to issue their statements.
  •      People aligned with the liberal left are calling for Viki Knox’s dismissal.
  •      People aligned with the conservative right are calling for Michael Avery’s dismissal.

     Both the liberals in support of Michael Avery and the conservatives in support of Viki Knox have built their respective positions on the foundation of “Freedom of Speech,” citing the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The idea there is that, as American citizens, they have the right to give voice to their opinions, without fear of reprisal. Now, in a perfect world this would be a fine idea. The only problem is that we do not live in a perfect world. Therefore, our government has placed certain justifiable, legal limitations on free speech.

     In the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case “Garcetti v. Ceballos,” (547 U.S. 410) SCOTUS ruled that the First Amendment does not prevent employees from being disciplined for expressions they make pursuant to their professional duties. As a government employee, Viki Knox is most definitely subject to this ruling by SCOTUS. Michael Avery, on the other hand is not, since his statement was made as a private citizen.(2) (3)

     Another aspect of both cases that must be addressed is whether each person’s statements conflicts with established policies against discrimination. In the instance of Viki Knox, her statements were made in direct contrast to established school and district policies regarding discrimination and harassment of people, with respect to race, creed, age, gender, religion, sexual preference or otherwise. In Michael Avery’s case, his statements were directed towards the government, or specifically an entity thereof. In essence, the individual situations coalesce into this; an employee of the government spoke against private citizens, and a private citizen spoke against the government. As we all know, it’s perfectly fine for the citizenry to criticize the government, but not the other way around, for the simple reason that government should operate at the behest of the governed.

     One thing is for sure: I personally disgree with both Viki Knox and Michael Avery. When each is viewed through the prism of the other though, the similarities and differences in each situation become clearer.

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12 comments on “The Viki Knox Debate: Point, Counterpoint

  1. Tom Usher says:

    I happened to agree with both of them, and I disagree with you. Viki Knox said she did not use school computers. Also, she made the comments on her own time and in a non-governmental forum. She is also a civilian. In addition, the policy against which she protested is a governmental policy. She did not harass any students.

    As for war, it’s Hell. Iraq and Afghanistan were wars based upon a pack of lies. If people are dumb enough, selfish enough, and wicked enough to volunteer to go fight for Imperial greed, they don’t need us sending them cookies from home. The US military is their mother. Let them suck at that hard, cold, small tit.

    The sooner the Pentagon’s budget is slashed to nothing the better.

    • And Tom, I appreciate you weighing in on this, even though we may be on completely opposing sides of these debates.

      I WILL take umbrage with your statement about our servicemembers though, since I also happen to be a veteran. Are you insinuating that I am also dumb, selfish and wicked? Sir, you don’t even KNOW me, therefore I challenge your qualification to judge me in that fashion.

      Name-calling will get you nowhere, and quite frankly is a very UN-Christian (then again, given the conduct of most Christians these days….) thing to do. Do I strike you as particularly lacking in intelligence (“dumb,” as you referred to it)? Go ahead, answer that question along with those that follow.

      I served my country faithfully for six years. When I volunteered, I knew that there was a chance that I could be deployed to a combat theatre, and there lose my life. I signed anyway, because I believe in the defense of the liberties of our citizenry, which includes my own wife and children.

      During my service to our country, many sacrifices were made. I spent a significant time away from my family, time I would have preferred to be spent watching my kids grow. As a servicemember, I also sacrificed the ability to exercise my freedoms under the Bill of Rights. This sacrifice is one that every servicemember makes, for the purpose of maintaining order within ranks. Now, does the willingness to make these sacrifices, up to and including one’s own LIFE, strike you as being particularly “selfish” or “wicked”?

      Sir, I may not agree with some of my country’s policies and actions, and that’s why I blog. That’s why I blow up my congressional rep’s e-mail box every so often. The one thing I will NOT abide or suborn however, is someone who has no concept of the many sacrifices our servicemembers are making every single night and day, judging and disparaging them. You take your liberties for granted sir, not accounting for the fact that they were bequeathed to you by brave men that have given their lives so that you could be free to take them for granted. Again, that sacrifice does not strike me as being particularly “selfish” or “wicked.”

      • Tom Usher says:

        I said, “Iraq and Afghanistan were wars based upon a pack of lies.” Did you serve in either of those knowing that?

        • Tom, I served from 1989 to 1992, and again from 2K to 2K3. Here’s my take on things:

          I served during Desert Storm. As we all know, DS was a coalition effort to oust Sadaam from Kuwait, which was justified and highly successful.

          Afghanistan, which kicked off around November of 2001, was in response to the Taliban’s refusal to turn over the man behind 9-11, Usama Bin Laden. So no, I HIGHLY disagree with your assertion that Afghanistan was as you say, “based upon a pack of lies.”

          IRAQ on the other hand, is where our opinions merge. Iraq was basically IMHO, Bush 43’s desire to finish what Bush 41 had started, and do it better. This war WAS based on false intel, and if you read my blog entry, “The Chaser: And You Can Quote Me On That!” you’ll see my analogy for the Iraq War.

          Listen Tom, if the Army had said that I needed to go to Iraq, that’s what I would have done, regardless of my own personal feelings about the war or its justifiability. I made a commitment and signed a contract with my country BEFORE September 11th of 2001, that said I would. Luckily, I exited the Army around the same time that the rest of my unit went over to the “sandbox.”

          • Tom Usher says:

            “As we all know, DS was a coalition effort to oust Sadaam from Kuwait, which was justified and highly successful.”

            No, we don’t all know that. What I know is that the lead-up to that invasion was a typical pack of lies. Do you know about slant drilling for oil? Do you know about little lying teenage girls and US Presidents (George H. W. Bush – huge liar! – taught his sons well) when it comes to “incubator babies”? Do you know about Saddam informing the US of his plan ahead of time and not being told that the US didn’t support his intentions or would react violently? That was a dirty trick. I could go on and on. You know the US supplied him with chemical munitions, equipment, and training, and sided with him against Iran, etc., I hope.

            “Afghanistan,…was in response to the Taliban’s refusal to turn over the man behind 9-11, Usama Bin Laden.”

            The Taliban expressly stated that if the US could supply them with evidence that Osama bin Laden did it, they’d turn him over. You are aware that the FBI did not have bin Laden on the 10 Most Wanted List because Director Mueller said there was not sufficient evidence for it, right?

            I’m sure you buy the official US propaganda concerning all things 9/11 too. At least it sounds as if you would. I absolutely do not buy it.

            Good for you that you know the Iraq War was based on lies. Tell me one that wasn’t.

            “Listen Tom, if the Army had said that I needed to go to Iraq, that’s what I would have done,….”

            You asked if I think you are stupid, and I asked you a direct question so I could ascertain the answer. Did you sign up with the military to follow orders including illegal orders (illegal by their own standards)? You would have gone to Iraq anyway. Yet you ask me if I think you are stupid. Amazing.

            From your perspective, you see me as close to the Mennonites. The Mennonites are very divergent these days. I am closer to the non-violent Anabaptists than to any other “major” denominational grouping, but I’m not an Anabaptist, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or anything but what I say I am, which is a Real Liberal Christian (all three terms ultimately being one and the same).

            Are you of the view that the verse where Jesus says to take up the cross is a later insertion?

            “You’re ignoring centuries of history, because the facts don’t support your own conclusions.” No, you have that backwards. First I read the history. The conclusions came later.

            “…where do you think this world would be if the U.S. had not stood up to the agression of Hirohito and Hitler?” You ask the wrong question because you don’t start at the beginning. I am anti-war. Where would the world be had Japan and Germany not become so militaristic? Also, they didn’t invent it. Who helped form them? The US, for instance, sent the military to Japan to tell them that either they open up their “market” to our capitalists or…. The naval guns finished the sentence. Lovely. That’s your empire’s history. We’re you unaware? Well, if you were, you don’t have that excuse anymore.

            Far from doing what you suggest, the only thing I’ll tell anyone is what is consistent with what I believe Jesus said and did as recorded in the Gospels. The Gospels definitely do not support your view at all.

            You are a militarist. You are part of the problem. You are not part of the solution. Total world pacifism is the solution. You aren’t part of it. You’re preaching against it and against Jesus.

            You have not gone through the long night of the soul. You’ve been avoiding it. You better get on with it before it’s too late.

            It’s your blog. You may have the last word of course. I think I’m done here. I don’t find a son of peace. Let me know if you change your mind. I’d love to have you as a real brother in Christ.

          • Yep, my blog and I will gladly take the final word on this one. Man, sorry to say it but we will never see eye to eye. Your perception of reality has gone off skew somewhere, and just keeps on going like a mental “energizer bunny.” Wow.

            So now, not only am I “dumb,” “selfish” and “wicked,” I’m also stupid? I don’t know about any “long night of the soul,” but I did get to spend some pretty long nights IN Seoul…

            As for your statement about “9-11 propaganda,” PLEASE don’t tell me you’re one of those conspiracy theorists that places more historical credence in Michael Moore! Again, WOW.

            Little lying teenage girls and incubator babies? Okay, whatever. This conversation cannot be allowed to continue at this point, I’d only be knocking my head against a brick wall. And since the attempt to make ANY semblance of sense out of what you’ve posited here has necessitated a good strong 800mg dose of Ibuprofen, I don’t think I want to knock my head against any walls. Good luck with whatever reality you’re attempting to create. (Total world pacifism? Your own BIBLE tells you that ain’t gonna happen, so I fear you’re going to live your life a very, VERY disappointed man.)

    • (Follow-on thought) In addition, how would you know that “war is hell”? You’ve never been in the military.

      Evidently, you did NOT read my policy on commenting to this blog. That’s okay though, I approved your comment “en toto” as part of an object lesson in how to respond to people that judge from a standpoint devoid of experience or knowledge in the matters they attempt to judge. (I’m NOT Technorati.)

      I swear, If I ever again make it up as far as Burien, you and I have GOT to do lunch! Then, I might drag you down to Fort Lewis, so that you can have the opportunity to meet some of these soldiers you’re so quick to disparage, and see how intelligent, selfless and honorable they actually are!

      • Tom Usher says:

        How many people have you killed? How many times have you been shot? How many times have you had guns pointed at you and fired? How many times have you had guns held to your head, loaded, and with the safety off and with an angry finger on the trigger? War isn’t just in the military.

        You presume too much about me while complaining that I do that concerning you.

        I am a pacifist. I’m a Christian following Jesus’s admonition to the extent I’m able given the likes of you who are violent and unwilling to follow Christ to the cross for abiding by Jesus’s pacifist teachings.

        Yes, I hate war. I hate the Pentagon. I don’t for a moment believe that I have freedom because of wars. I know that both sides of those claim to be right while neither is, per Jesus Christ.

        Have you read the Gospels? I’ve know many veterans. I’ve known some who couldn’t live with what they did for “country.”

        Peace is what I wish for you.

        • Luckily, I haven’t had to take a life in the service of my country. WOULD I have? Yes, because that is what we are trained to do. What I presume about you sir, is only what and how you present yourself in what you write. So given that, am I to assume that you HAVE taken a life, had a gun pointed and fired at you or placed to your head? How about this; have YOU faced the possibility of having this done? Have YOU faced the possibility of being deployed to a warzone? Have YOU had to face your own mortality, and have your wife and kids do the same? (Face their mom / dad’s mortality.) Man, you know SO LITTLE about the U.S. soldier and what he / she goes through, for YOU, or what military FAMILIES go through….FOR YOU.

          A Pacifist? I would say that you most closely resemble…a Mennonite! Mennonites do share a lot of what you’ve just posited. As for me being “violent and unwilling to follow Christ to the Cross,” again you read me wrong. I AM a believer, and I know that I don’t have to follow Christ to the cross, he died there so I don’t have to. So that NO ONE has to, given the choice!

          You say that you “don’t for a moment believe that I have freedom because of wars.” You are MISTAKEN. You’re ignoring centuries of history, because the facts don’t support your own conclusions. You’ve ignored the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, WWI, WWII. Tom, where do you think this world would be if the U.S. had not stood up to the agression of Hirohito and Hitler?

          Being a Pacifist is fine. If you haven’t the stomach for war, then okay. Not a lot of people do. But don’t sit there and try to piously judge those of us that would stand in front of you, and give OUR lives to secure your freedom. A simple “THANK YOU” will suffice. (Not for me, I’ve done my bid for “king and country,” but at least thank the next veteran or servicemember you see, for being out on point so that you can “sleep peacefully in your bed at night.”)

    • Tom: One thing I have noticed in all the recent debate about Viki Knox is how few people truly understand our First Amendment and how it truly applies to public employees (i.e., teachers at a public school). Regarding your comments about Viki Knox I would offer the following:

      http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/The-law-and-its-influence-on-public-school-districts-An-overview/Free-speech-and-public-schools.html

      “Over the years the courts have ruled that school employees are not always free to express their opinions and beliefs. Employees cannot be disciplined or suffer negative consequences for speaking out on matters of “public concern.” Schools can take action, however, when employees go public with strictly personal concerns.”

      “But even standing on principles of public concern is not sacrosanct. Employees can still be disciplined based on that expression (like publicly criticizing supervisors) if the district believes that it will impede the employee’s ability to perform assigned duties, or the speech will undermine supervisory authority, disrupt the school, or destroy close working relationships.”

      “So when confronted with an employee speech case, the court’s analysis goes like this: Is the speech a matter of public concern? If not, the case ends and the employee loses. If so, then was the employee’s speech outweighed by the state’s interest in promoting efficiency in the delivery of educational services?”

      “Furthermore, unlike a college setting, K-12 public school instructors do not have a right of academic freedom. Control of the curriculum—both what is taught and how it is taught—is vested with the board of education and the administration. The Court wrote in the Pickering case that “The state has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general.””

      http://www.samchaltain.com/free-speech-for-teachers-think-again

      “…prior to 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court evaluated public employee free-speech claims by using a test with two basic prongs. First, the court would determine whether the speech in question touches on a matter of public concern. If it did not, the teacher would receive no First Amendment protection whatsoever. If the speech did touch on a matter of public concern, the court would proceed to the balancing prong of the test, in which it would balance the teacher’s interest in commenting upon a matter of public concern against the school officials’ interest in promoting an efficient workplace of public service.”

      “In one 2001 case, for example… the appeals court noted that the teachers’ speech “resulted in school factions and disharmony among their co-workers and negatively impacted [the principal’s] interest in efficiently administering the middle school.””

      “This is all a precursor to 2006, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively eliminated the free-speech rights of public employees in its 5-4 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. As my friend and former First Amendment Center colleague David Hudson explains, since Garcetti “public employers are able to defend themselves against allegations of retaliation by claiming that employees’ criticisms of government operations were made as part of their official duties.”

      Indeed, a pattern has emerged in this post-Garcetti world, in which it has become almost impossible to mount a successful First Amendment lawsuit based on speech that relates to the workplace. In other words, a teacher who wishes to claim First Amendment protection for decisions about curricular content must do so knowing that the same protections s/he would be afforded as a private citizen will not apply to anything so directly related to his or her official duties.”

      http://www.firstamendmentschools.org/freedoms/faq.aspx?id=12820

      “Does a school violate the First Amendment if it disciplines a teacher for speech that touches on a matter of public concern?

      It depends. It is important to remember that the test developed by the Pickering-Connick line of cases has two basic prongs. First, the court must determine whether the speech in question touches on a matter of public concern. If it does not, the teacher will not receive any First Amendment protection. If the speech does touch on a matter of public concern, the court proceeds to the balancing prong of the test. At that point, the court must balance the public school teacher’s interest in commenting upon a matter of public concern against the school officials’ interest in promoting an efficient workplace of public service.

      Some balancing factors for a court to consider include

      *whether the statement impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among coworkers,

      *whether the statement has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, and

      *whether the speech in question interferes with the normal operation of the employer’s business.”

      There are certainly more sites, but those will give you a good idea of how our First Amendment is truly applied to public employees.

      • Tom Usher says:

        The comment-subscription system did not notify me of J. Patrick Morgan’s comments. I will deal first with Kelley Hendricks’ and then perhaps come back to J. Patrick Morgan’s.

        Unlike you apparently do, I don’t gage the rightness or wrongness of violations of freedom of religion and freedom of speech according to how judges rule but according to logic, which necessitates beginning with the fundamentals.

        First of all, is homosex being truthfully represented in the public schools? If it is not, and it isn’t, then all of the public-policy arguments against Viki Knox are moot and she should not be confronted with her job being threatened for speaking her truth but also much, or more, truth regardless.

        An atheist speaks truth when saying that penises do not belong in anuses. However school children are being deliberately misled by omission of facts into a confused state of mind. It’s cognitive dissonance at its lowest. It’s a proverbial pit into which the soul, spirit (or if you don’t believe in soul and/or spirit), or mind falls.

        The kindergärtner grows up to realize that male-male anal sex was the “attraction” that was being defended by the child’s school system.

        How many children are being set up for being conflicted? Whom can they then trust? The honest ones of them will realize that they were fed a gross lie that such behavior is not only to be tolerated but condoned, supported, and even celebrated as finally superior (liberated or some other such nonsense – hooked is more appropriate)?

        In addition, a central question is whether or not any government within the US can rightly, legally fire anyone for voicing long-established religious convictions, such as is the case with Christianity as concerns homosex.

        The issue is with what supposed rights trump what other rights. In this case, you are taking the position that being allowed to engage in unhealthy behavior trumps a Christian’s (in Viki’s case) right to say that homosex is wrong, per her religion for one (and which is central to her in particular), and which is, frankly, her highest duty per the spirit of the law to protect children from evil.

  2. While I feel the same way regarding both people’s statements, (equally disgusted) I do NOT feel the same way about the resulting implications to their employment status. Do I feel that Viki Knox should be fired? YES. Do I feel that Michael Avery should be fired? NO. Here’s why:

    If we are to be a nation of laws and of the “Rule of Law,” then that’s the way it must turn out. Not because of what they said or who they said it about, but by virtue of their respective positions, and how the LAW relates to those positions.

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