Unjust Justice or Just Injustice?

A South Carolina high school teacher who says she was forced to resign after a student took her phone and circulated a nude picture of her has garnered the support of hundreds of students who signed a petition demanding she be reinstated. (NY Times, 3/3/2016)

This New York Times article raises a challenging question.

Absolutely the student did wrong, and should be made to face some sort of consequence for stealing his teacher’s smartphone and then accessing and distributing her personal [nude] photos on it. And, I agree that the school system was way out of line for condemning her, if [as it appears] they rushed to a judgment of her without simultaneously investigating and determining how to address the student’s actions.  (They’ve ducked the issue by saying his fate is being left up to Law Enforcement.)

The deeper question is this: how responsible is the content owner (the teacher) for creating and retaining such content, and then making it accessible – even if inadvertently or illicitly – by others?  Does an expectation of privacy prevail, as she claims?

If so, then suppose another adult, perhaps hoping to seduce a minor over whom they have some sort of authority or control, deliberately did the exact same thing?  Should they be able to claim that their expectation of privacy trumps other concerns?  How could you fairly judge the difference between the two situations, since it would almost certainly boil down to a “he said … she said” type of situation?

Also consider that the student made a mistake, as the teacher has said.  She says she has forgiven him, and that his youth must be taken into consideration.  My concern is that this young man is now being condemned and shamed by his peers for what has happened, and is probably deeply regretful of the results of his actions.  Is shaming or judging him the right thing to do?  Will the furor over her forced resignation help him repent and heal from the harm he has done?

It is easy to take up the cause of those caught up in challenging situations such as this, and turn it into a crusade for justice. But in doing so, are we judging fairly and wisely?


Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.

Author: Allen

A would-be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is the proud father of a daughter and son, and enjoys life with his wife near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/.

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