Student punished for voicing views

October 28, 2005

PITTSBURGH
 
A Duquesne University student from Hagerstown was punished by the school for calling homosexuality "subhuman" on a personal Web log.



Ryan Miner, a 19-year-old sophomore, was found guilty of violating the school’s University Code, which prohibits harassment or discrimination, Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said.



Miner must write a 10-page essay on the church’s stance on homosexuality and remove the offensive post by Dec. 15, according to the sanction.



Officials at the Catholic university in Pittsburgh have not determined how Miner would be punished if he fails to comply. Such incidents are treated on a case-by-case basis, Fare said.
 
Miner, a graduate of Williamsport High School, said he has appealed the sanction and would rather be expelled – the worst-case scenario – than write the paper or remove the post.



"I absolutely, 100 percent refuse to write the paper," Miner said. "I don’t stand down when I believe in something."



The incident stems from ongoing opposition to a proposal submitted by gay students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance group on campus. The university formed a committee in September to examine the issue in light of its Catholic identity.



Miner started a group called "Students Against the Gay/Straight Alliance" on Facebook.com, a Web site allowing public users to post personal profiles and blogs. The Web site is not affiliated with the university.



Miner wrote that homosexuality was "subhuman" in a posting submitted on the site last month. He said he knew some people would be offended by the post, but didn’t think he was violating the University Code.



"I wasn’t saying the people were subhuman," he said. "I was talking about the act. If I thought I was in violation, I wouldn’t have wrote it."



Students noticed the posting and reported it to school officials, who found Miner in violation of the school code.



As a private school, Duquesne has the right to limit free speech and can punish students for breaking rules even when they are committed off campus, Fare said.



"While they’re students here, they’re still representing Duquesne at all times," Fare said. "It’s OK to disagree, as long as a viewpoint isn’t degrading or demeaning to others. Calling somebody subhuman is not a respectful way to disagree."



Fare said students are made aware of the school’s "Basic Responsibility" standards when they enroll. The rules say that students must promote learning, free expression and respect for other students at all times. The code also prohibits discrimination based on race, religion and sexual orientation, among other things.



Civil liberty groups also have weighed in on the incident.



"Clearly, (Miner) only intended to target gay and lesbian people," said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland. "Substitute any other group other than gay or lesbian people, then people might see it in any other light."



Equality Maryland is a civil rights organization for lesbians and gays.



David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said it was unclear whether Miner was guilty of harassment and was researching the school’s policies.



"Any individual posting on their own blog is almost never discrimination as the law defines it," French said. "But if you know you go to a religious school that promotes certain values, you don’t have the standing to say it’s unfair."

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