Is it OK for a high school history teacher to be a Holocaust denier? How bout if he teaches that the U.S. was responsible for 9-11?

The English teacher got suspicious about what was going on down the hall in the History class.  She reported to the History Department Supervisor

That “her students were questioning historical accounts of the Holocaust, opining that ‘Hitler didn’t hate the Jews,’ that statistics on the death counts were ‘exaggerated’ and that [the students] ‘got the information from their world history teacher, Mr. Ali.”  Students’ written assignments confirmed the English teacher’s accounts. One student wrote in a paper submitted to Ali’s class that “Adolf Hitler…is looked at as a bad guy but in reality brought Germany out of its great depression.”  Another of Ali’s students expressed a belief that “what they claim happened in the concentration camps did not really happen” and that “Jews…had a much easier and more enjoyable life in the camps.”

Mr. Ali’s alternative views of history came to the attention of the media because he posted links to articles on the school’s website.  Articles like:

U.S. Planned, Carried Out 9/11 Attacks—But Blames Others for Them.

Saudi  Abdailah Al-Yahya: The Jews are Like a Cancer, Woe to the World if they Become Strong.

The superintendent informed the TV reporter that the school would investigate and take disciplinary action if warranted.  That’s exactly what happened, quickly. Mr. Ali’s employment was terminated.

He sued, claiming discrimination, retaliation and an infringement of his free speech rights. On April 22, 2020, the 3rd Circuit Court of  Appeals ruled against him on all counts. The court opened its opinion with this:

At times there are nuances that arise from history that create equivocation in analyzing how, why, and when certain historic events have occurred.  There are no nuances to be discerned regarding the Holocaust. It is a historic fact. 

That pretty well sealed Mr. Ali’s fate.  A history teacher, like all Americans, can hold alternative views of history, but cannot teach whatever they happen to believe. The court summarized some of the evidence:

Ali does not deny that he never expressly apologized for his conduct…Moreover, evidence such as the students’ assignments and emails to Ali and Ali’s deposition testimony shows that Ali permitted conspiracy-theorist and Hitler-apologist presentations in his class and encouraged students to develop these opinions.  Indeed, Ali did not dispute that he presented sources containing conspiracy-theorist and Hitler-apologist views that appeared in his students’ work product.

Key Quotes:

Teachers do not have a protected First Amendment right to decide the content of their lessons or how the material should be presented to their students.

Ali did not have a right to decide what would be taught in the classroom.

It’s Ali v. Woodbridge Township  School District, decided by the 3rd Circuit on April 22, 2020.


Tomorrow: Does the Constitution include a right to literacy?