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The New York City Board of Education did not violate the First Amendment rights of a teacher who was dismissed for his ties to a group that advocates sexual relationships between men and underage boys, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. New York Eastern District Judge Frederic Block found that the board’s actions were justified because the teacher’s much-publicized, active participation in the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) would cause disruption if he were allowed to continue teaching. Judge Block, in Melzer v. Board of Education, 93 CV 5942 (FB), also cited concerns of the student body, testimony from a psychologist and the possibility that the teacher would be unwilling to report a sexual incident to his superiors if he learned of one. But the judge stressed that if the teacher, Peter Melzer, had been a passive member of the group, “it is doubtful whether any degree of disruption to the internal affairs of the school could justify [his] firing.” The court noted that Melzer never spoke about his beliefs at school and does not advocate breaking the law. He freely admits that he is attracted to boys up to the age of 16, but he has never been accused of any impropriety with students. Judge Block said further: “Melzer has joined an association that expresses views and aspirations clearly repugnant to the sensibilities and belief systems of the community at large, the Court and his public employer. Nonetheless, Melzer’s right to join this expressive association as a citizen, regardless of its views, and to participate in its activities, is protected by the Constitution.” Melzer’s lawyer, Eugene B. Nathanson, said his client would likely appeal the ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Nathanson had argued that Melzer’s dismissal was unconstitutional because it was in response to behavior unrelated to his job that took place outside of work. Melzer, who had been a tenured physics teacher at Bronx High School of Science, became the center of several television and print news reports in 1993, as well as stinging editorials. One report by the local NBC affiliate included footage from a secretly taped NAMBLA meeting, at which Melzer was shown advising a non-tenured employee of the Board of Education to keep his NAMBLA affiliation quiet until he became tenured, according to the court. Melzer has been a NAMBLA member since the early 1980s, and has served on the editorial staff of its newsletter. After the NBC report aired, teachers and parents began to express concerns about Melzer’s affiliation with NAMBLA, which has advocated abolition of age-of-consent and child pornography laws, as well as the right of children to conduct their sexual lives with no more restrictions than adults. Parents threatened picket lines and protests, and dozens of students spoke out against Melzer during meetings to discuss his return from a sabbatical. Members of a parents’ association vowed they would do whatever it took to prevent Melzer from teaching again. The court noted that several students voiced concerns about the prospect that Melzer would be fired without having committed a crime. Melzer was reassigned to non-school offices pending an investigation by the Board of Education. The board concluded that Melzer should be terminated, a determination that Melzer contested before a hearing officer. After 33 days of hearings over the course of three years, the officer confirmed Melzer’s dismissal in 1997. FEDERAL SUIT Melzer filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that his dismissal was in retaliation for his beliefs. He sought compensatory damages against the board, and compensatory and punitive damages against numerous school administrators. The board countered that its broad interest in providing quality education was more important than Melzer’s “limited interest” in speaking on matters removed from education policy. In dismissing Melzer’s claims, Judge Block ruled that the concerns of the board about disruption at the high school outweighed Melzer’s First Amendment claims. He also highlighted Melzer’s response to questions about whether his beliefs would constrain him from reporting any sexual incidents brought to his attention. Melzer testified that “it would be a very difficult conflict but, you know, as a teacher I think I have more of a — what is the word, loyalty to teaching than to NAMBLA.” The judge called Melzer’s writings for NAMBLA’s newsletter of “paramount significance,” and wrote that his “constitutional right to actively participate in NAMBLA’s expressive activities was bound to publicly surface, as [Melzer] himself acknowledged, and to reasonably be found by his public employer, after a careful external investigation, to be ‘potentially disruptive’ to the operations of the school and [Melzer's] future effectiveness as a teacher.” The judge also cited testimony from a psychologist, called by the board, who said that knowing of Melzer’s beliefs would be “an extremely anxiety provoking and disruptive experience for the average child and adolescent.” Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan L. Pines handled the case for the Law Department.

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