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Alum who opposes gay marriage prompts firestorm at Friends School

Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation
Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation(The Heritage Foundation)

Friends School alum Ryan T. Anderson has ended up in the midst of a free speech debate about gay marriage.

But his alma mater isn't talking -- at least for now.

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Since Thursday, what began as a link on the Friends Facebook page to a profile of Anderson in The Washington Post has evolved into a nasty little Internet debate, with accusations of intolerance being traded on both sides.

"There's no issue in American life right now that's harder to talk about right now without doing the name-calling thing than gay marriage," Anderson, 33, and a graduate of the Friends class of 2000 says over the phone.

"People wonder why this country is so polarized and why half of the country doesn't understand the other half of the country. It's because no one is prepared to listen to the other side."

The brouhaha began Thursday, when Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was profiled in The Post.

The article noted that both Anderson's supporters and political opponents praised him for the civil tone that he brought to the debate on gay marriage.

The school linked to the article on its Facebook page, citing it as an example of the way that Friends promotes independent thinking.

And, that's when things got ugly.

One online commentator compared Anderson's views to those held by Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Others likened Anderson's opinions to hate speech -- a caricaturization with which Anderson strongly disagrees. Still other writers said that by linking to the Post profile, Friends was implicitly endorsing Anderson's views.

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Anderson and his supporters, in turn, accused the school of hypocricy and of permitting an "inhospitable environment" on campus that discriminates against the school's conservative pupils.

Eight hours later,  as Anderson put it, "Friends caved." The post was deleted, with a short apology to students and alumni.

Later the same night, Head of School Matt Micciche wrote a long explanation about why a) he initially linked to the Post article, and b) why he then decided to take the post down.

In essence, Micciche wrote that while he values freedom of speech, what matters to him even more is not causing unnecessary "anguish or confusion" to the school's current and former students and their families.

Friends still got online criticism from supporters of gay marriage.

The following morning, Micciche's post was deleted as well -- this time without explanation.

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Again, a torrent of criticism, this time from the right: Examples A, B and C.

The headmaster responded to a query Monday from the Sun with the following email: "As a school, our energies are focused on attending to the nurture, support, and education of the children in our care.  For that reason, we are not speaking with the media about this matter."

While Friends might not be talking publicly right now, there's some indication that a frank and courteous exchange of views might not be utterly impossible at some unspecified future point.

Anderson said that he and Micciche spoke by phone on Thursday for 50 minutes.

"I don't think we made a terrible amount of progress, but it was good that we talked," Anderson said. "We're working on where we go from here."

No word on what such a scenario might look like, but Anderson said he'd "be happy" to return to his old school at any time to discuss his opinions in person.

mcmccauley@baltsun.com

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