Yesterday, The Heritage Foundation’s leading scholar on marriage policy was featured on the front page of The Washington Post as the right’s “fresh voice on same-sex marriage.”
The premise of the article was this: A day in the life of Ryan T. Anderson, whose work reflects the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, as he navigates an ever-hostile environment around those who disagree with his work and opinion.
The Heritage Foundation is the parent organization of The Daily Signal. Anderson is the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American principles and public policy.
After the story was published, the Friends School of Baltimore, which is the school Anderson attended from 1st to 12th grade, posted the article on their Facebook page.
“Article about Ryan Anderson ’00 in today’s Washington Post. Fine example of how this school promotes independent thinking and a spirit of respect for all viewpoints,” the post, written by the school’s head Matt Micciche, said.
Eight hours and dozens of comments later, Micciche removed the post, writing:
Robert P. George, a Princeton professor who co-authored the book, “What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense,” with Anderson, called Micciche’s actions “a betrayal of his vocation and of the mission of the institution he leads.”
For an educator to do what this man did is a betrayal of his vocation and of the mission of the institution he leads. He has shown by his actions that he is an indoctrinator, not an educator. On a matter of great moral concern that is being debated among reasonable people of goodwill across the nation, he will permit students to hear only what is to be said one side—the side he agrees with. It is disgraceful. Not only does he not understand [Ryan’s] arguments, he doesn’t understand freedom of speech or the necessity of freedom of speech for the enterprise of education.
For Anderson, the school’s decision to delete the article from its Facebook page was as personal as it was political.
“Friends School of Baltimore was and is an incredibly left liberal place. It was a great experience for me, as I was always challenged, always forced to think more critically, always faced with opposing viewpoints,” Anderson said in response to the school’s decision.
My senior year, I was the Co-President of the high school, and at graduation I won a number of awards (athletics, music, and academics). I also won the Head of School’s ‘Bliss Forbush Sr. Award For Spirit of Fellowship Practiced by a Senior Throughout his or her School Life.’ So even in a liberal place, my classmates recognized me as a leader and voted for me, and the faculty and administrators recognized my contributions to the school.
That’s more or less what The Washington Post article was highlighting. On a very difficult and delicate issue, I’ve been able to do good work with civility and respect. You’d think my alma mater would be proud of this.
Micciche later provided a “more thorough explanation” of his decision to delete the post, apologizing for “the pain that it has brought about.” He has since removed the post, but The Daily Signal captured it in full here:
Members of the Friends School Community,
As many of you know, this morning, we posted on the Friends School Facebook page a Washington Post article that profiled a Friends School alumnus who is a prominent national opponent of same-sex marriage. Earlier this evening, I removed that post from our page, and I’m writing to provide some background on this decision.
I want to begin by expressing my sincere regret to those for whom the posting of this article called into question our school’s commitment to honoring their identity and their rights. Though I should have anticipated the anguish and confusion this posting would cause, I did not. For that lack of sensitivity, and the pain that it has brought about, I apologize to all the members of our community.
By far, the most important factor in my decision to remove this post were the voices of students and alumni who felt that by posting this article, we were, as a school, validating (if not tacitly endorsing) the views that Mr. Anderson put forth in the article as he described his work opposing same-sex marriage. While that was not our intent, as we often point out to students, it is the reception, rather than the intent, that matters. I can understand why the belief that Mr. Anderson’s views were being endorsed by the school would be deeply troubling to some members of our community. The nature of these views goes beyond the realm of abstract political ideology and calls into question the fitness of same-sex families to raise children and the right of gay and lesbian citizens to marry the person they love. While Mr. Anderson undoubtedly has the right to express such views, by posting this article we created legitimate confusion as to whether or not they were being validated by the school.
And yet, the decision to remove the post, once I had heard the deep concerns it was causing, was not without conflict for me. I found myself torn between two seemingly opposed aspects of our School Philosophy. We believe, as we say in that document, that “Quaker education is a pilgrimage–a continual seeking after Truth. The search for truth requires a willingness to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.” I take very seriously our responsibility as a school to encourage the free and open exchange of all ideas, from across the political spectrum. I firmly believe that we must support, foster, and celebrate divergent thinking to the greatest possible extent. There can be no “party line” in a truly great educational institution, no sense that there is only one acceptable view on any complex topic.
We also affirm in our Philosophy that “Friends School seeks to live the conviction that there is that of God in each person. At Friends, we work together to build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all people; we value diversity and cherish differences.” With this ideal in mind, the celebration of divergent viewpoints is not, and cannot be, without boundaries. When the views that a person espouses call into question the full humanity or the full access to human rights of others, based on their very identity, the active harm that the espousal of these views causes outweighs the opposing value of freedom of expression.
My decision, in other words, places a priority on the very real and human sentiments of the actual members of our community (as expressed to me in the wake of our posting of this article) over the more purely philosophical commitment to the free flow of ideas. Those of us in the majority – in this case, the heterosexual majority -have the luxury of treating the debate about same-sex marriage as an issue of abstract ideals. That luxury is simply not available to those whose humanity and civil rights have historically been degraded in this area and many others.
I believe that Mr. Anderson is entitled to hold the views he does, and I respect his educational and professional accomplishments. As the article remarks, he is seen as a “fresh face” for the anti-gay-marriage movement largely because of the civil and reasoned manner in which he presents his arguments. I hope that his ability to respectfully disagree with his opponents has at least some root in his experiences at Friends School. That said, as a Quaker school, we strive to create an environment where “that of God” in every person is acknowledged and respected. By choosing to highlight an article about an alumnus whose work is based on a set of beliefs that begin from an assumption of inequality and that argue for the denial of rights to an entire segment of the population based on their identity, I now realize that we erred. I promise that we will draw on this experience as a tool for learning about how we can help to create a sense of acceptance and well-being for all, while also providing for the open and respectful exchange of ideas. We can and must do better in the difficult work of balancing these competing ideals.
Head of School
“If you wonder why our national politics can be so divisive and rancorous, look no further than our schools—they aren’t preparing students to be civil and tolerant in the real world.”