|Lora Jane Riedas (left) and her wife, chemistry teacher Valerie
Photo credit: Andres Leiva, Tampa BayTimes
At Riverview High in Tampa Lora Jane Riedas, a math teacher, is a critically thinking grownup and professional. She is unlikely to make a mistake. Riedas was accused by Liberty Counsel of requiring a student to remove a cross that she was wearing. The real issue was an attempt by Liberty Counsel to put a damper on any faculty involvement in the run-up to the Day of Silence.
Marlene Sokol, a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times has looked into this fiasco:
[According to Liberty Counsel] Riedas was forbidding students from wearing religious jewelry. Not true,
she said. “I’m a Christian myself. I would never do that because I
would be hurt if someone would tell me not to wear my cross,” she said.
She said she did tell a student or two that they could not wear rosary
beads, which are against the school dress code as some consider them
Moreover, it remains undisputed that no student or parent had made a complaint to the principal of the school.
The second allegation concerned Riedas’ work as adviser for the
school’s Gay Straight Alliance and local co-chairwoman of the Gay,
Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Riedas says those roles are separate from her work as a teacher.
Liberty Counsel has an obvious agenda. Staver goes batshit every year over the Day of Silence, essentially claiming that schools are turning kids gay and that schools are bullying Christians by encouraging students not to bully LGBT kids. It is preposterous.
Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver says the messaging goes too far. It’s not just a symbol, he says, but the combination.
It’s the rainbow stickers Riedas is accused of placing on student folders. It’s a poster that says “Ally,” a term for people supportive of their LGBT friends.
“She’s free to do what she wants to do in her own time outside of that classroom,” Staver said. “She’s free to be a sponsor of a student-initiated, student-led club. But she crosses the line when she brings things into the classroom that pushes her ideas onto the students. You talk about being inclusive. But she’s not including people who do not agree with her.”
Staver is doing the conservative Christian two-step. Pretend that there are two sides and that there is a controversy. It is what they do to counter Evolution. There are not two legitimate sides to anti-bullying. There are no ideas being advanced that should cause even the most devout Christian a concern. There are not two legitimate sides to treating everyone with decency and respect regardless of their sexuality. Why would anyone disagree with that? Staver would disagree but he is an irrational bigot.
It’s comparable to wearing a button that reads “I love my Democratic
students. Or Republican. Or pro-choice, or pro-life,” he says. “That
puts a teacher on one side of the issue and makes people not on that
side feel like outsiders.”
No it is not because there is no “issue.” At least there should not be one. There is nothing here for a sane, thinking person to object to.
GLSEN considers the campaign a form of harassment. “We’ve been dealing with this kind of game playing from the Liberty Counsel for many, many years,” said executive director Eliza Byard, who called Riedas.
Such cases are intended as a chilling effect, Byard said. “Liberty Counsel has been active for years in trying to misrepresent support for LGBT students as some kind of anti-Christian activity, which is ludicrous.”
Eliza Byard explains it a bit differently than I have but the net result is the same. Liberty Counsel is trying to frustrate equality by claiming that the majority is being persecuted.
Miami Beach blogger David Cary Hart noted the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Liberty Counsel a hate group.
Local conservative leader Terry Kemple, who ran three times unsuccessfully for Hillsborough County School Board, said in a written statement that Riedas “should apologize to her students” and “should be precluded from coercing any of her students to participate in the so-called ‘day of silence.’ ” If not, “she should be fired.”
Mine is a partial victory. I tried to get Sokol to discuss the matter with SPLC. She did not. As for Mr. Kemple, one of his skills is apparently mind reading. There is no evidence that Ms. Riedas coerced anyone and there is not evidence that she did anything for which she should apologize.
As the story circulates, students in one class have taken the opportunity to challenge her. Some came to class with rosary beads. They drew crosses and wrote Bible verses on the back of their math papers.
“They’re starting to pull other kids in who either don’t care or just want to be part of the drama,” Riedas said. “Some of them think it’s a game, that it’s fun. It’s affecting our school like a virus.”
Two years ago Riedas was recognized by her peers as Riverview’s Diversity Educator of the Year. Now she just wants to quietly teach. She blames adults, not kids, for the disruption.
“I’m just annoyed that they’re using my students,” she said. “They’re manipulating them. They’re getting kids as teenagers to lie for their agenda.”
Keep in mind that none of this would be happening were it not for the outrageously dishonest efforts of Mat Staver and Liberty Counsel. Now a good teacher who cares about all of her students has to put up with this. She is now represented by counsel, Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, director of the Hillsborough teachers union. Baxter-Jenkins says that all of the charges are false.
May I remind all that Staver and Liberty Counsel are defendants in litigation charging them with abetting an international kidnapping? This has very serious implications for Staver including criminal liability and the potential loss of his law license. That is the kind of person that they are dealing with.