A high school teacher in North Carolina threatened a student with arrest for “disrespect” of the putative President, Barack H. Obama. When she did that, she behaved almost the way a teacher might behave in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin.
What the teacher said
This incident took place in North Rowan High School, Salisbury, NC. The student whom the teacher threatened with arrest, heard such threats, or such other tirades, many times before. A friend of his carried a cellphone that could record video. At a critical moment, he sensed that this teacher was about to go off on a tangent about the 2012 Presidential campaign. Sure enough, she did. And this student was ready for that. He told his friend to turn on his cellphone, and the friend did. The friend then left the cellphone lying on his desk. The video shows a still picture of fluorescent-tube ceiling lights. The voices on the video belong to the student, the teacher, and other students in the class.
The dialog starts out calmly enough. The teacher, whose name no reporter has yet mentioned, starts to talk about Mitt Romney, and whether he did, or did not, bully a student when he, Romney, was in high school. (The family of the “target” has cast serious doubt on the story as apologists for Obama tell it.) Then the student asks,
Didn’t Obama bully someone, though?
The teacher answers,
Not to my knowledge.
The problem for that teacher: Obama admits shoving a girl in his memoir, Dreams of my Father. (Or rather, William Ayers, his ghostwriter, admits that for him.) The student tells the teacher about the reference. The teacher answers,
Stop. No. Because there’s no comparison.
The teacher goes on to say that Mitt Romney must take people telling stories about him, because he is only a candidate, and is not yet the President.
This man is trying to be what Obama is: the President of the United States.
The student then says,
If you’re going to talk trash about one man, then you’ve got to talk trash about the other.
The US Constitution. Photo: National Archives of the United States
Now the teacher raises her voice a little louder. She accuses the student of “disrespecting the President.” The student answers,
But he [Obama] is just a man! Obama’s not a god. He’s still a man.
Now the teacher starts yelling:
Let me tell you something.
Then she raises her voice as high as she can raise it, and screeches,
Then, smacking the back of one hand into the palm of the other in cadence to her words, she declaims,
You! Will not! Dis! Respect! The Prez-! Ident! Of the U-! Nited States! In this Classroom!
She speaks these lines between the 3:06 and 3:17 mark.
Now the teacher has provoked the student, and he talks back:
I will say whatever I want.
The teacher yells back:
Not about him, you won’t!
The dialog does not end there. In between hearing the teacher accuse him of not doing his classwork, he says that he was merely asking her a question about Obama. Then, near the 4:30 mark, the teacher says:
Let me tell you something else! As a teacher, I am not allowed to let you disrespect the President of the United States! I’m not!
The student says that he said nothing disrespectful, and the teacher says that yes, he did. For the next several minutes, student and teacher argue fruitlessly about where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stand as adults. The student says that they are equal; the teacher insists that the law somehow protects Obama from disrespect. At the 6:20 mark, the student says that when George W. Bush was President, everyone said disrespectful things about him. (Warning: The student, and then the teacher, start using scatological words from this point forward. Parental judgment and discretion are advised.)
Then, at the 6:39 mark, the teacher, incredibly, says:
Did you know, do you realize, that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?
That, of course, is totally without foundation. The student tells her so. When she repeats that threat, he says,
You would have to say some pretty effed-up [censored] to get arrested. Because they cannot take away your right to have an opinion, or your freedom of speech. They can’t take that away from you, unless you threaten the President.
Which that student never does, at any time.
Even more incredibly, the teacher tells the student (7:15) that police do not always read the Miranda Warnings to a person when they arrest him. Then she returns to her opinion that any person who says anything derogatory to or about a sitting President is subject to arrest.
At last report, the principal of North Rowan High School suspended the teacher—with pay.
Why that teacher was wrong
No person has defended the way the teacher spoke in the classroom. Everyone who has heard the voices, agrees that the teacher behaved badly. She lost control of her classroom and the respect of all the students in the class. Bill O’Reilly, on his O’Reilly Factor, says that she reacted emotionally, a thing that no teacher should do.
But what she said is worse even than the way she said it. The student is correct: threatening to kill the President of the United States, by mail or in any other way, breaks federal law. (The penalty is a fine, a term in prison of five years or shorter, or both.) Saying something nasty about a current or former President does not. Or at least, it does not break the law as CNAV understands it.
Not unless CNAV‘s administrators and contributors woke up today in Josef Stalin’s Russia, or Germany under the Nazi Party. Under those two regimes, teachers would not rant, rave, screech, or scream at a student. Instead he would calmly report the student to the authorities—the NKVD under Stalin (or the KGB under his successors), or the Gestapo under Hitler.
Does that teacher wish that Obama had the power of a Stalin, or a Hitler?
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.
Nor does anything in campaign law or libel law distinguish between incumbent Presidents and candidates for the office.
That this teacher, or any teacher, would misrepresent history and law is bad enough. That she would further suggest that Barack H. Obama deserves to have the law protect him more than any other man is worse.
She, and for that matter Obama, would do well to remember what happened to a true hereditary king who presumed to accept Divine honors.
On an appointed day Herod [Agrippa I], having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.