Equity & Diversity

Court Rebuffs Teacher Who Advocated ‘Man-Boy’ Sex

By Caroline Hendrie — March 03, 2004 3 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to consider an appeal from a teacher who was fired by the New York City public schools after information surfaced that he was a leader in a group that advocates the legalization of sex between adult men and underage boys.

A federal appeals court last summer upheld the 2000 dismissal of Peter Melzer, who taught for three decades at one of the city’s premier academic high schools.

Alleging that the firing violated his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association, the teacher had asked the high court to review the unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City. Without comment, the justices declined to do so on Feb. 23.

“I’m deeply disappointed,” Mr. Melzer said in a telephone interview. “I always behaved above reproach. It’s purely a matter of free speech. I had taught for 30 years, and to have one’s career ended that way is a very bitter experience.”

But a lawyer for the city said the district was “very pleased” by the high court’s action in Melzer v. Board of Education of New York City (Case No. 03-936).

“We believe that the 2nd Circuit was correct in all respects,” said Ronald E. Sternberg, a city attorney who handled the case.

Mr. Melzer was a leader in the North American Man/Boy Love Association, and while he readily admits being sexually attracted to young adolescent boys, he has not been accused of sexual misconduct with students in the district. The stated goal of NAMBLA, which is based in New York City, is “to end the oppression of men and boys who have mutually consensual relationships,” according to its Web site.

In Loco Parentis

In firing Mr. Melzer, officials in the 1.1 million- student district contended that his activities had undermined his effectiveness as a teacher and disrupted operations at the Bronx High School of Science, where he had taught physics since 1962.

Many parents and students protested when media reports revealed in 1993 that Mr. Melzer was a leader in NAMBLA. Since joining the group a quarter-century ago, Mr. Melzer has served in various leadership roles, including as a member of its steering committee and the editor of its magazine. Investigators who handled his case pointed with particular alarm at articles that offered advice on how to avoid arrest for sex with underage boys or possession of child pornography, according to court papers.

In its 3-0 ruling last July, the 2nd Circuit court held that Mr. Melzer’s free-speech and free-association activities were protected under the First Amendment, but that those rights were outweighed by the district’s interests in effectively carrying out its public duties.

Asserting that teaching “by its very nature requires a degree of public trust not found in many other positions of public employment,” the panel noted that Mr. Melzer’s job put him in the role of acting “in loco parentis for a group of students that includes adolescent boys. At the same time, he advocates changes in the law that would accommodate his professed desire to have sexual relationships with such children.”

While the panel said the public cannot “shout down unpopular ideas that stir anger,” it described parental objections to keeping Mr. Melzer in the classroom as “perfectly reasonable,” and a justifiable consideration in determining whether to fire him.

“I am sorry about the final outcome,” said Eugene B. Nathanson, a New York lawyer who represented Mr. Melzer. “I think this case and the trend of First Amendment employee litigation is very dangerous for employees’ free- speech rights.”

Mr. Melzer, 65, compared his treatment with those who were advocates in the past for the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women, interracial marriage, and birth control.

“What any particular group fights against may not ultimately be accepted, but the point is that we pride ourselves on a Constitution that protects free speech,” he said. “It’s unpopular speech that should be protected.”

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Opinion Q&A Collections: Challenging Normative Gender Culture in Education
Ten years of posts on supporting LGBTQ students and on questions around gender roles in education.
1 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Video These Schools Served Black Students During Segregation. There's a Fight to Preserve Them
A look at how Black people managed to grow a solid middle class without access to so many of America’s public schools.
According to The Campaign to Create a Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park, the two-teacher school was developed between 1926-1927 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009. The building is now owned by Cain’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, which sits adjacent to it.
The Russell School (also known as Cain’s School), a Rosenwald school in Durham, N.C., pictured on Feb. 17, 2021.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Letter to the Editor Former Teacher: Essay on Equity Falls Short
A retired teacher critiques an essay about equity in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Equity & Diversity Opinion 'Students Deserve to Know Our History'
Two educators wrap up a four-part series on how teachers should respond to attacks on critical race theory and lessons on systemic racism.
9 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty