A science teacher at a Catholic high school in New Zealand has been fired because of criticizing the school principal’s remarks against gay parents. Though fired, the teacher has taught his students a remarkable lesson about standing up for one’s beliefs.
According to New Zealand’s Northern Advocate newspaper:
“Three weeks after being suspended for speaking out against what he called discriminatory comments by the Pompallier Catholic College [high school] principal, science teacher Nigel Studdart has been sacked.
“The school board’s decision to end his tenure came as no surprise to the teacher, who has many students as well as gay rights groups speaking in support of him.”
In August, the principal, Richard Stanton, wrote an essay in the school’s newsletter, decrying efforts in New Zealand to legalize marriage equality, which stated, in part:
“Same sex couples will almost inevitably argue for the ‘right’ to children. Such a voice is heard now and my fear is that we are moving towards a society where children become an ‘entitlement’ or ‘right’ and are therefore commodities, or possessions to be acquired, rather than a gift to be received. I acknowledge that possessive parents are not exclusively found in same sex relationships, but I contend that such relationships may be more disposed towards such a mind-set.
“Parents who see their children as gifts bring a very different mind-set from those who see children as an entitlement. They tend to be more open to the flowering of their child in whatever direction they venture. This tends to encourage children to be more confident and open to the world around them.”
According to MSN.nz, Studdart criticized the principal’s remarks:
“Mr Studdart said he thought the comments were prejudicial toward gay parents and potentially harmful to gay students or the children of gay people.
“The principal’s inference that gay people were inferior parents was ‘untenable,’ he said.”
Additionally, Studdart supported a student-led protest of the principal’s remarks.
In his comments to the Northern Advocate after learning of the decision, Studdart offered a powerful lesson in the power of conscience:
“I’m not sorry I spoke out. I couldn’t have done anything else. The issue has led to a lot of debate about homosexuality which is irrelevant, really.
“The issue raised in the school newsletter and what I stood up over was discriminatory and prejudicial and has no rightful place in a decent society.
“I slept well last night [after being officially dismissed] with a clear conscience and I will face my tomorrows in the knowledge that I could not in all conscience have acted any differently.”
In firing Studdart, the school board acknowledged his fine teaching record. So it is no surprise that his students have been strongly supportive of him during this ordeal. According to the New Zealand Herald:
“Several students have left messages on the popular science teacher’s Facebook page disappointed with the school’s decision.
“i cant believe it, just like that my favourite teacher is gone,” Leshego Mpe wrote.
“There goes the best teacher in the school =’( good luck with whatever you plan to do now,” Nikki Bedford added.
“The whole family is outraged by this. The whole family are supporting you with any decision you make.
Thanks to you I felt so confident in my chem and bio paper today! You were the best teacher!” Zoe Pearse said.
Parents have been equally upset, some threatening to remove their children from the school. Sharon Teh, a parent, said:
“Pompallier has lost one of the best teachers they have and we are seriously considering moving our son to a different school – we have no faith in Pompallier College at all. As well as a fantastic teacher, you are a wonderful man – you aren’t the one who should be leaving that school.”
Studdart has been praised by other New Zealand religious leaders. According to GayNZ.com, Rev. Glynn Cardy, of Auckland’s St. Matthew’s-in-the-City Anglican Church, praised the example that Studdart offers students:
“It is this sort of courageous example that our young people need. . . .Your action also sends a wonderfully encouraging message to the many LGBT youth across New Zealand that discrimination is wrong, that some teachers are not prepared to be privately supportive but publically silent, and that there are people of religious faith who believe that the sacrament of marriage should be available to gay and lesbian couples.”
Cardy also offered a word of caution to New Zealand’s Catholic leaders:
“Cardy says he understands the position of New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops on the Marriage Amendment Bill, and that principal Richard Stanton might want to endorse that in his position as the leader of a Catholic school.
“ ‘However by stopping the expression of contrary opinions, and in particular by going to the extraordinary length of dismissing a popular and competent teacher, you are sending out a message that the school is not a place where robust debate can happen, and is not a place that can manage and appreciate diverse views,’ Cardy says.
“ ‘This seeming fear of difference is at odds with the best of Roman Catholicism’s social practice in New Zealand, a practice marked by tolerance and compassion.”
We pray that Cardy’s words will be heeded. And we pray in gratitude for Mr. Studdart’s courageous example. He has turned what could have been a personal tragedy for him into a powerful teaching moment.