Catholic school removes gay student’s op-ed from website

Posted by Kristen D. Smith

For the past few months, accounts of suicides and bullying of gay adolescents have been prevalent in the news and on social networking sites, such as YouTube and Facebook.

These tragic stories inspired Sean Simonson, a senior at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, a Catholic college-preparatory school in St. Louis Park, Minn., to write a piece for the school newspaper about his life as a gay teen.

Sean Simonson is a senior at a Catholic school in St. Louis Park, Minn. Simonson was asked to remove his essay “Life as a gay teenager” from the school newspaper’s website after the comments grew heated. (MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel) Louis Park, Minn.

“I wanted to stand up and speak out,” Simonson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The staff of the student newspaper, the Knight Errant, expected strong feedback, especially on the newspaper’s website. But when the online debate amounted to almost 100 comments on the story, administrators decided the critical comments were getting too intense.

Simonson, who came out earlier this fall on his Facebook page, said the comments didn’t disconcert him because he knew many students did not think the essay belonged in a Catholic student newspaper.

But administrators took down the article anyway.

School president Bob Tift said in a statement, “The online comments regarding the editorial and opinion piece in question were creating a disrespectful environment as well as confusion about the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

While students understood that the school acted in the best interest of the students’ safety, they disagreed with the school’s decision to remove the article and its comments.

One of the editors at the Knight Errant, senior Bernardo Vigil, said some of the comments were offensive, but that censorship was still censorship. He and other student journalists think administrators felt pressured to take down the essay after receiving calls from online commentators.

“I feel that by complying with those requests, our administration is implying solidarity with them, which is more damaging than allowing the debate to continue,” Vigil said.

Do you think officials made the right decision in taking down the article? What motivations do you think officials had to remove it? Pressure from phone calls from parents? Concern for students’ safety? Too much conflict with Catholic teachings?

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12 responses to “Catholic school removes gay student’s op-ed from website

  1. I don’t think they should have taken the piece down, especially since Sean said the comments didn’t really upset him. It’s good to keep things interesting, especially in journalism, and the newspaper probably had high traffic, which is also good. I’m sure the only reason why they took it down is because it was at a Catholic School. It’s so sad that Sean can’t even write about his sexual orientation. I don’t think it’s right, especially since the writer was fine with the comments.

  2. I agree, I do not think they should have taken the article down. There are controversial articles written all the time on a variety of topics, and the same thing happens to all of them after a little while: The debate dies down, and people move on.

    I also think it was removed because it was put up on a Catholic school’s newspaper website more than anything. As long as the article states that it is about this boy and his experience and that it does not reflect the beliefs or anything of the school, then I think it should have stayed up.

  3. Nicole Sternhagen

    As much as I believe everyone should have the right to express their opinions in school publications, and that school publications should let the students themselves dictate what goes into them, the school had every right to take down the story. In my Media Law class, we have discussed the rights of a student newspaper to publish any story that it wants, and for some cases the students are protected. But in others, the school has a right to take down any story that is not congruent with the school’s code or if the story interrupts the learning process. In a public school the story should have stayed up; however, in a private school, especially a Catholic one, the school does not play by the same rules as public, government run ones. I’m impressed that the school even let the story run in the first place; this shows they were trying to be fair, but sometimes there is only so much one private school can control.

  4. I am also glad that the school let the story run in the first place, especially since I know of another Catholic school near this one that has not allowed articles like Simonson’s to be published.

    And I also understand that the school has the right to take down the story, especially since it is a Catholic school and it has certain separate guidelines from other schools, and the students understand this too. I think the students were just disappointed that the article didn’t stay up since the boy who wrote it said he expected criticism and prepared for it, and when it came he wasn’t bothered by it.

  5. I was also surprised that the school ran the story in the first place and believe that they had the right to take it down. I don’t think that they made the right decision though. They knew it was going to be a controversial piece before they published it, and the author was not offended by any of the comments. If the comments were really the problem, I think that a better solution would have been disabling the comment option. If alumni or parents were upset, they could have put a disclaimer that said the individual writers’ views do not reflect those of the catholic church.

  6. I’m surprised the Catholic school allowed the story to run in the first place, but as the Times-Delphic staff has recently learned, once a story is published, everyone has access to it. I see zero point in taking it down if it’s already generated so much response.

    Also, if the faculty and administration was concerned about negative feedback, the article should have been blocked from comments. If students’ parents were opposed to the article and believe it is not following the teachings of the Catholic Church, they could call or message someone in higher athority.

    • Jessica, yes we have learned this lesson. And, I agree with you. Once the story is out there, everyone will see it. You cannot pretend it was never published. By taking the article down, people will gossip about it and not know the real truth. The article should be kept up so people can find it.

  7. You all make a very good point: The minute something is posted on the Internet, there will almost always be a way to trace it or find it again somehow, even if it was “removed.” For example, the link I used in my blog post that goes to the student’s actual story goes to Minnesota Public Radio’s website.

    I think disabling comments would have been a good idea. Administrators voiced concerns about students’ safety after people started posting comments, not after the actual article was put up.

  8. They did not make the right decision in taking the article down. I understand the Catholic church frowns upon homosexuality, but this is a teenager expressing himself in an open outlet. It is his right to express his opinion and the school showed they are not very high on independent thinking. I applaud the student for having the courage to write about the topic and I hope that people realize there is nothing wrong with expressing a personal opinion. Freedom of speech is the United States’ greatest virtue.

  9. I don’t think they administrators made the right decision either. The student was not bothered by the comments, and there wasn’t anything mentioned about him being harassed or threatened at school. They knew it would be controversial, but sometimes it’s good for newspapers to publish controversial pieces despite criticism that may come.

  10. I don’t think they should have taken down the article. I’m surprised that an article like that was allowed to run in a Catholic school paper in the first place, but I applaud those who made the decision to run it. The Catholic church needs to open up it’s image and become more tolerant. Do what you teach and love all of God’s children. It was inappropriate for them to take down the article. Instead the administration should have expressed solidarity with the student.

  11. I agree, it was great that the student had the courage to write the essay and share it with his peers, especially in a Catholic school environment.

    I also think publishing controversial pieces every once in a while is a good idea. You never know what kinds of responses you are going to get to articles until you publish them, so I’m glad the school didn’t try to discourage the student from writing it in the first place.

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