A Honolulu teacher has been denied a teaching certificate after expressing his views in support of adults having sex with minors.
Mark Oyama earned a degree in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology and a masters in physics from the University of Hawaii, writes the Associated Press.
In 2010, he entered the secondary education certification program of the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus, the state's only school that recommends students to be certified as secondary teachers. In an assignment, Oyama wrote that he thought online child predation should be legal. He continued by writing that child predation in real life should be legal as well, as long as it was consensual. The age of consent should be "either 0 or whatever age a child is when puberty begins."
When discussing his comments with his professor, Oyama said he thought a consensual relationship between a 12-year-old and a teacher would be acceptable, but emphasized that he, personally, would report such a relationship and would obey the law.
The professor felt these comments were disturbing, as were others he made such as calling some special education students "fakers."
A panel of federal appeals court judges concluded that that the comments were pertinent in deciding whether he should be approved as a public school teacher. They found that the university's decision was relevant to conventional professional criteria at the state and national levels.
The university, according to the judges, was correct in interpreting Oyama's comments as a suggestion of what he would do had he been certified.
Oyama's attorney, Eric Seitz, found the ruling troubling because it opened the door for the university to censor a person's opinions that had not been acted upon. Although he admitted that his client was a socially awkward nerd, he stated that he found it outrageous that a student could be booted out of an educational program for expressing an opinion, albeit a disturbing one.
When he was denied his certification, Oyama asked that the College of Education return his tuition payments, and he would forfeit all credits and grades as well as pledging not to become a classroom teacher. He was denied and advised of his right to appeal, according to Hannah Parry of the Daily Mail.
Although a grievance committee found that Oyama should not be allowed to be a student teacher, it did find that the university did not notify Oyama about its "dispositional concerns" soon enough. Still, the dean of students suggested that he be reimbursed for some expenses if he dropped all his claims. Oyama rejected the offer and filed a suit based on First Amendment violations.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-relations law, and other courses at the UCLA School of Law, says he disagrees with the Ninth Circuit's decision.
In fact, he thinks it is a dangerous decision because there is the possibility that it will cause students, in an effort not to be thrown out of their educational programs, to avoid expressing particular views on the chance that their remarks would cause what happened to Oyama to happen to them. The eventual result could be that students would follow the rules, even the ones they find to be misguided, or get kicked out of school because of what they say. Classroom discussions could very well become distinctly one-sided, Volokh fears.