New Jersey teacher in trouble over anti-gay Facebook comments

Was a teacher who posted anti-gay comments on her Facebook page being a bully or practicing freedom of speech and religion? Should she be fired, suspended or left alone? The school board of Union Township, N.J., has begun debating that question in an effort to determine the fate of Viki Knox, whose Facebook comments have galvanized people on both sides of the various issues.

About 300 people turned out Tuesday night for the board’s meeting, which was preceded by loud demonstrations of people supporting and denouncing Knox. Chants of “No hate in our state” competed against shouts of “Don’t bully Viki,” according to the Star-Ledger newspaper. No decision was made on Knox, who is on administrative leave.

Knox is the second teacher in recent days to get into trouble over comments posted on Facebook.

Earlier this week, Jeremy Hollinger, a special-education teacher in Mobile, Ala., was alleged to have poked fun at his pupils on his Facebook page. Both cases have enraged people who say the men and women entrusted with teaching the nation’s children should have more sense than to put personal jokes and beliefs on Facebook for the world to see.

But Knox’s case has the added element of drawing in people arguing that - because her anti-gay beliefs apparently stem from her religious leanings — punishing her would amount to a violation of her right to religious freedom.

“No American should expect to be prosecuted for exercising free speech. At what point does that stop?”  the Rev. Milton B. Hobbs of the New Covenant Fellowship Church in Clark, N.J.,told the Star-Ledger last week. Hobbs has described Knox as a good person who simply stated on her Facebook page what the Bible says about gays.

But at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, many disagreed. “It’s not her right to preach hate in the classroom,” said Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality, an advocacy group. WABC television offers a report on the meeting and the earlier protest.

Knox, 49, a Union High School special-education teacher, has yet to publicly comment on her behavior and was not at the meeting. She was pulled from the classroom after the controversy erupted earlier this month. 

She came to officials’ attention when she commented on her school’s recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual History Month. Among other things, she wrote on Facebook that homosexuality was a “sin” that “breeds like cancer” and that marking LGBT History Month was like parading “unnatural, immoral behavior before the rest of us.”

Gay advocates say that teachers who hold similar views could be lax in enforcing new anti-bullying legislation passed in New Jersey last spring. That legislation followed the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge when he learned that his roommate had secretly filmed him with another man. 

Knox’s Facebook page has been taken down, but her situation has spawned a number of other Facebook pages, among them Fire Viki Knox, with more than 500 likes as of Wednesday morning, and Support Viki Knox, which had about half that. 

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