Controversial Teacher Sues for First Amendment Rights

ByABC News via logo
March 3, 2006, 10:29 AM

March 3, 2006 — -- A Colorado teacher who was suspended after making controversial comments about President Bush -- which were recorded by a student during class -- is filing a lawsuit against the school district in Aurora, Colo., this morning.

On the tape, the student, Sean Allen, repeatedly asks questions, and teacher Jay Bennish actually compliments him. But that may not be good enough for school officials, who will conclude their investigation within the week.

The district says the key question is whether Bennish violated policy by failing to allow ample opportunity for opposing views.

On Thursday, dozens of students walked out of class at Overland High School, picking sides in the debate between the geography teacher and Allen. The controversy started Feb. 1, the day after Bush's State of the Union address.

"Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?" Bennish asked his class. "The United States of America."

He went even further, comparing Bush to Adolf Hitler.

"I'm not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same, obviously they're not," Bennish said. "But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use."

Bennish told the class he was only expressing his opinions.

"I'm not in any way implying that you should agree with me," he said. "What I'm trying to get you to do is to think, right, about these issues more in depth."

"His whole goal," said David Lane, Bennish's attorney, "is to fire these kids up, and you have to take some extreme positions to fire these kids up. Let them debate it."

Bennish is on paid leave. Allen is thinking about transferring schools because he is afraid of reprisals.