Can high school students take on gay marriage?
NCR reported on—and posted—an editorial by a Catholic high school newspaper staff on gay marriage that was removed by school administrators. A column written by a gay student was also posted.
My interest was piqued by this story because I’ve both been and worked with high school journalists, but any good young journalist knows that the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood decision gives public school administrators a great deal of authority over content. Clearly, the students at a private Catholic school can’t argue that their first amendment rights have been violated.
According to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), administrators stood behind the column and editorial, allowing it to be printed and posted online, only removing it after it received 150 online comments. The administrators cited concern for gay students who hadn’t come out in addition to confusion over church teaching, but anyone who has worked in a high school for any period of time could have anticipated that.
Here’s SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte's response to the situation: “You never want to let the hostility of the audience drive you to censorship. If the comments really are the concern, then there were more limited and better ways to address the concern than shutting down the whole conversation…The student’s column was a cry for acceptance. The last thing a bullied person needs is to be told to shut up. He’s just being bullied a second time.”
But from the perspective of church, what is the best way to handle this situation?
I’m reminded of Donna Freitas’ explanation of the difference between Catholic and evangelical youth culture: Evangelical youth have ownership and create the culture themselves (even if a growing number favor gay marriage). She suggests letting young people have more ownership over spirituality and theology—while grounding them in tradition, of course.
Here we have high school kids trying to engage in a very difficult and grown-up conversation. Perhaps the comments section of a website isn’t the best place for such a conversation, but I hope that it doesn’t end here—and that adults aren’t ones shutting students out of the conversation. If adults do shut the conversation down, then they only have themselves to look at when they ask why young people aren’t in the pews.