File Under: More Liars for Jesus

You know that kid in Texas, the one who had his First Amendment rights abridged in school?

“Dakota is a very well-grounded 14-year-old,” she told Fox News Radio noting that her son is an honors student, plays on the football team and is active in his church youth group. “He’s been in church his whole life and he’s been taught to stand up for what he believes.”

And that’s what got him in trouble.

Dakota was in a German class at the high school when the conversation shifted to religion and homosexuality in Germany. At some point during the conversation, he turned to a friend and said that he was a Christian and “being a homosexual is wrong.”

“It wasn’t directed to anyone except my friend who was sitting behind me,” Dakota told Fox. “I guess [the teacher] heard me. He started yelling. He told me he was going to write me an infraction and send me to the office.”

Maybe you heard about that and had some concern about balancing human decency and freedom of speech (which is already abridged in schools). Maybe you felt some sympathy for a teacher who went too far. Me? I said, “Really?” and turned to Google.

It turns out that the answer is “No, not really,” and despite that, the teacher could be facing discipline.

Via the Dallas Voice, we get more information from an anti-harassment group that has been investigating the incident. I’m printing it in full here, as it’s advocacy, not reporting, and should be widely distributed.

I would like to take a moment to fill you all in on an instance of injustice playing itself out right now in the Fort Worth ISD, part of a larger attempt to get the district to back away from its newly adopted policies prohibiting ISD employees and students from harassing others at school on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. I do so in the hopes that you might add your voice to those of Fairness Fort Worth, City Councilman Joel Burns, and others, in demanding that our public school system live up to those policies.

Kristopher Franks, a German teacher with a long and distinguished service record at Western Hills High School, is currently being investigated by FWISD administrators, swayed by a right-wing attempt to rouse public opinion against him for having the temerity to write a disciplinary referral against Dakota Ary, a student whom Franks reports publicly harassed him in class on the basis of the student’s perception that Mr. Franks is gay. This is being depicted in numerous news reports as an effort to suppress the student’s First Amendment right to free speech. As Franks and the district cannot speak to media while the incident is being investigated by the district, only the student and his Liberty Institute lawyer’s version of the incident is being reported in the media.

The gist of these reports is that Ary, during a discussion about religion and homosexuality in his first-year German class, expressed the opinion that “I am a Christian, and I believe that homosexuality is wrong,” and was subsequently sent out of class with a disciplinary referral by his teacher, Mr. Franks, and then given a three-day suspension from an assistant principal.

I and other members of LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., a group formed a year ago in response to local and national incidents of school-based, anti-LGBTQ incidents of harassment, became aware of this incident last week, shortly after the first, distorted media reports came out. Concerned that only one side of the incident was being reported, we met Friday night with Mr. Franks. His account contradicts Ary and his lawyer’s version of events, and has been substantiated by several of the other students in class at the time. We found Mr. Franks’ explanation entirely credible.

He reports (and has reported to his school) repeated acts of anti-gay harassment by several students that occurred this and last year, including by a group of four specific boys in this class, of whom Ary is one. Among other incidents, Mr. Franks maintains a “word wall” for his German IV class on which he posts articles and images from several journals, including the German magazine, Stern. One of these articles concerned gay rights in Germany, and included a photo of two men kissing. The group of four boys concerned was sitting near this image immediately before Mr. Franks found it had been ripped from the wall. The student and his lawyer are now asserting that including this photo among the others constituted his teacher’s “imposing acceptance of homosexuality” in his classroom. These students subsequently took every opportunity to denounce homosexuality in class, frequently without context; that is, with the topic having otherwise been broached.

On the particular day in which this incident occurred, Mr. Franks was opening class when the topic of Christianity in Germany was broached by one student, who asked what churches were there, another whether they read the Bible in English, etc. Franks asserts that the topic of homosexuality was not broached in any way, and that Ary‘s assertions to the contrary are entirely false. At this point, Ary declared, with a class audience, “Gays can’t be Christians; homosexuality is wrong,” looking directly at Mr. Franks. Franks says he understands and affirms students’ right to free speech, and that he is perfectly prepared to lead a respectful discussion on topics such as gay rights that allows for the assertion of opinions with which he disagrees. He has led such discussion in the past in his sociology classes. But in this case, hr feels the context makes it clear that this remark was made ad hominem, aimed specifically at him to devalue him and any information he might share on the topic of religion, on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.

The Liberty Institute, which has provided the lawyer to represent Ary, depicts itself as concerned with protecting “faith-based speech,” and has a record of fighting against the extension of anti-harassment policies to protect LGBT people. It is associated with a number of other, politically active, conservative evangelical institutions. So far, the lawyer’s efforts to whip up public sentiment against Mr. Franks have been very successful: The story has been broadcast nationally by a number of right-wing websites. Franks has received numerous insulting and threatening phone calls and emails, and after public outcry generated by these media reports, these suspensions were nullified, and the district has called Mr. Franks in to be interrogated Monday (26 Sept.) by the Office of Professional Standards, the office responsible for investigation ethical violations, though without as yet bringing any specific allegations against him.

As you might guess, the Liberty Institute tends to be very strategic in its selection of cases on which to to deploy its resources. It is likely no coincidence that it chose to represent the student only a few months after the FWISD adopted policies against anti-gay harassment.

So what can you do? Know that the publicity machine that is Fox News has been wound up to apply considerable pressure on this school board with respect to their review of this teacher. Know that the teacher himself cannot make statements about what happened in public, as he’s still required to protect the privacy of this student.

You can pass this additional information around widely, particularly when you hear people bringing up only the student’s side of the story. You can remind them that harassment is not protected speech. You can also contact the school board, as requested in the end of letter, below. It is now a couple days past the questioning, but no decision has been announced. As noted, be respectful, but do remind the board that there are people watching who expect justice to be done

It would be very helpful, and a grace rendered to the threatened teacher, Mr. Franks, if you and other community members would write letters and/or email messages to the school board members, assistant superintendent, and Western Hills High School principal, calling on them to give a respectful, caring, and full hearing to Mr. Franks’ side of the story. Time is of the essence: He is being interrogated by an external investigations group today, though no specific allegations have yet been made against him by the ISD. I will post their names, phone numbers and email addresses below. Please keep all messages respectful and restrained, calling simply for a fair, respectful and caring hearing of Mr. Franks’ side of the story, unswayed by the public outcry generated by the slanted media coverage. Do not go into the speculations or reports of his side of the case; that is for him to present.

Walter Dansby
Interim Superintendent
Fort Worth ISD
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 817.871.2000

James Wellman
Principal
Western Hills High School
Fort Worth ISD
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 817.815.6000

Ray Dickerson
President
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: [email protected]

Carlos Vasquez
Board Member, District 1
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: [email protected]

Norman Robbins
Board Member, District 7
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: [email protected]

Also, next time you hear about the “persecution” of Christians for their beliefs–and the time after that and the time after that and…ahem–dig. Find out what’s actually going on. Then make sure the truth gets heard.

Comments

  1. julian says

    You can remind them that harassment is not protected speech.

    Thank you. Way to many people have let themselves forget this. Rather than worrying about the flesh and blood people being hurt, they’re busy worrying about reaching an abstract ideal that isn’t even served by them willingly ignoring what’s happening in front of them.

  2. Glodson says

    I would comment right now but I cracked my skull rather badly on my desk because of this story. It is always nice to see good Christians lying so that bigots can still express hateful messages.

  3. ckitching says

    Thanks for this. When I first heard about the story, I thought the child’s words sounded a little too “sanitized”, if you know what I mean. I had figured it was just that they had replaced ‘fag’ with ‘homosexual’ or something, because even that would’ve rationalized the teacher’s behaviour. I had no idea that things had already gone so far beyond that in the interval leading up to this.

    I do wish I could say I’m surprised, though. I’m afraid I’ve seen too many cases of “Lyin’ for Jesus”, and become more than a little jaded.

  4. Adamo says

    Nowhere in the four gospels – which are the books of the bible “supposed” to be the words of Christ – is there any mention of homosexuality. There is talk of love and forgiveness, taking care of the sick and the poor, and paying your taxes, but nothing about being gay.

    You can find it in Leviticus, alongside such rules as never combining two fabrics together, or the proper way to sell your daughter into slavery, or prohibitions against eating shellfish.

    Amazing how some folks pick and choose and still claim to be Christian themselves.

  5. says

    The “Dallas Voice.” Yep. There’s a wholly neutral and unbiased source if I ever saw one. Completely trustworthy.

    Not!

    “You can remind them that harassment is not protected speech.”

    Unless, of course, that harassment is against “liars for Jesus,” right?