HONOLULU, Hawaii — A federal appeals court has ruled that it was not unlawful for a university to deny a teaching certificate to a man who aspired to be a high school teacher after he expressed views in support of adults having sexual relations with children.
In 2011, the University of Hawaii had declined to allow Mark Oyama from participating in a teacher certification program because of his opposition to pedophilia laws, as well as alleged statements calling special education students “fakers.”
“Personally, I think that online child predation should be legal, and find it ridiculous that one could be arrested for comments they make on the Internet,” he wrote in one school paper in 2010. “I even think that real-life child predation should be legal, provided that the child is consensual. Basically from my point of view, the age of consent should be either 0, or whatever age a child is when puberty begins.”
According to court documents, one of Oyama’s professors approached him about his beliefs, and Oyama explained that he believed it would be “fine” for a 12-year-old to have a consensual sexual relationship with his or her teacher. The professor then advised Oyama that he would be required by law to report such a relationship if he became a teacher, and he replied that he would follow the law although he did not agree.
The professor consequently reported Oyama to the director of the secondary program, who likewise expressed concern, stating that the university should be “very careful about accepting him as a teacher candidate.”
In July 2011, the school issued a letter to Oyama, explaining why they decided to deny him entrance into the teaching certification program.
“[T]he views you have expressed regarding students with disabilities and the appropriateness of sexual relations with
minors were deemed not in alignment with standards set by the Hawaii Department of Education, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teachers (NCATE) and the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board (HTSB),” the notice stated.
Oyama sued the university in federal court, alleging that his First Amendment rights had been violated. His initial lawsuit was rejected, and upon appeal to the 9th Circuit, the decision was upheld.
“State policy required the university to ‘verify’ Oyama’s ‘ability to function effectively in department classrooms’ before approving his student teaching application. Therefore, the university’s decision was, by necessity, prospective in nature,” the three-judge panel ruled.
“Oyama stood in the doorway of the teaching profession; he was not at liberty to step inside and break the house rules. But that does not mean that the university was obligated to invite him in,” it continued. “Rather, the university could look at what Oyama said as an indication of what he would do once certified.”
Oyama’s attorney, Eric Seitz, told reporters that he found the ruling to be wrongful since Oyama had not acted on any of this beliefs.
“To me, it is outrageous for expressions of opinions — however misguided — in a classroom discussion that a student can be essentially kicked out of his educational program,” he said.
But the 9th Circuit had ruled, “That Oyama did not in fact consummate the acts proscribed by these professional standards does not mean the university’s decision to deny his application was not directly related to them.”
The Associated Press and other outlets downplayed Oyama’s support for pedophilia and child predation in their reports, utilizing headlines such as, “Hawaii man’s opinions on sex keep him from becoming teacher” and “Views on sex keep Hawaii man from teaching.”