By Victor Skinner
SPENCER, N.C. – Talking bad about President Barack Obama is against the law, and you can be arrested.
That’s what a North Carolina teacher angrily told her students during a recent classroom discussion about bullying, politics and the presidential election.
Audio from a cellular phone recording captured North Rowan High School social studies teacher Tanya Dixon-Neely in a heated discussion with students regarding allegations that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney bullied fellow students during his high school years.
A defiant student in the class claimed that President Obama has also admitted to bullying, and that’s when the teacher lost her temper and any sense of objectivity.
“Stop! Stop! Stop! He is a wonderful president. Obama is the president,” Dixon-Neely is heard screaming. “He is due the respect that every other president is due.”
The student was not swayed. He argued that it’s fair to criticize Romney and Obama, since both are candidates in the 2012 election.
“If you are going to talk trash about one side, you have got to talk trash about the other,” he says.
The teacher fired back with misinformation, claiming Obama enjoys special legal protections due of his status as president.
“Let me tell you something, you have to realize that this man wants to become what Obama already is. There is no comparison,” Dixon-Neely said. “You cannot disrespect the president of the United States.”
Both Romney and Obama are men, and should be scrutinized equally, the student persisted.
“Obama is not God. He is still a man,” the boy said.
The thin veil covering the teacher’s personal preference for Obama then flew out the window.
“You will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” the Dixon-Neely exclaims. “As a teacher I’m not supposed to allow people to disrespect the president of the United States. I’m not. You can have different beliefs, but you will not disrespect him in here.”
She tells her students that criticizing Obama equates to slander, and they can be arrested if they speak ill of the president.
“You are not supposed to slander. I’m saying to you, you are not supposed to slander,” Dixon-Neely said. “People were arrested for saying derogatory things against (President) Bush.”
“As a social studies teacher I cannot allow you to slander any president in here, past or current,” the teacher said.
The student then reminds the teacher that criticizing Obama isn’t illegal, and preventing him from doing so violates his First Amendment right to free speech.
The cell phone footage of the argument has been viewed on YouTube over 167,000 times over the weekend. Officials in the Rowan-Salisbury School System suspended the teacher with pay today amid a district investigation, according to the SalisburyPost.com.
District spokeswoman Rita Foil told the news site that “this incident should serve as an education for all teachers to stop and reflect on their interaction with students,” then declined further comment.
Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer told the Post it seems obvious that the teacher’s affinity for Obama overshadowed the facts.
“Her point about not being able to say anything ‘disrespectful’ about the president does fly in the face of the First Amendment, and while she may wish to enforce that edict about ‘respecting’ the president, the issue seems to have gotten personal on her part,” Bitzer wrote to the Post.
“Her belief (about the ramifications) if one slanders the president isn’t very accurate – if you ‘threaten’ the president, that is another story, and that is a criminal offense,” Bitzer wrote.