To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Religious freedom has taken another blow in Massachusetts.
BY Gerald J. Russello
Religious freedom has taken another blow in
Massachusetts. In February, a federal court dismissed claims by parents who
objected to the presentation of homosexuality to their public grade-school
parents had argued that their rights to religious freedom under both the
federal and state constitutions had been violated by the school’s requirements.
In addition, the parents argued that the state constitution explicitly gives
them the right to “opt out” their children from the classes with which they
court rejected their federal claims in their entirety, finding that the First
Amendment does not hinder a school system from teaching “anything reasonably related
to the goals of preparing students to becoming engaged and productive citizens
in our democracy,” even if the teaching at issue, to 5- and 6-year-old
children, violates the deeply held beliefs of the parents who entrusted their
children to the system.
court refused to rule on the state law claims, in particular the claim that
Massachusetts was required to give the parents the ability to remove their
children from classes that offended their beliefs.
the decision does try to strike a conciliatory note, with the court opining
that it hoped the parties could come to some accommodation, more worrying than
the actual result in the case is the reasoning behind it. Indeed the court
shows, despite its occasionally soothing rhetoric, what it really thinks of
religion beliefs. First, the court offhandedly disparages poor parents who may
have no other option than the public school by stating that the parents who
objected to the public school teaching on religious grounds could send their
children to a private or religious school.
court compounds this disdain by indicating that the parents could elect their
own candidates to the school board to enact a curriculum more compatible with
their views, but as its lengthy opinion states, that is not really possible:
Such a course would be an impermissible “establishment” of religion.
the court misunderstands the place of religious freedom in American history.
The court offers phrases such as, “Our nation’s history includes a fundamental
commitment to promoting mutual respect among citizens in our diverse nation
that is manifest in the First Amendment’s prohibitions on establishing an
official religion and restricting the free exercise of religious beliefs.”
phrasing is deeply misleading.
liberty — the right to freely exercise one’s faith in word and deed, including
how one chooses to raise children — is protected by the Constitution because
the Founding Fathers believed it fundamental to a stable society, not because
it fostered some contentless “mutual respect.” The phrase “established
religion” is simply a scare tactic, meant to give cover to what is essentially
an opinion aggrandizing state power at the expense of families.
the court basically forecloses what limited rights parents are afforded under
state law and illustrates what it means by “mutual respect.”
court suggests that parents, despite Massachusetts law allowing opt-outs, may
still be prohibited from directing the upbringing of their children for the
sake of the “message” it may send to other children.
court’s reasoning is worth quoting here:
exodus from class when issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage are to be
discussed could send the message that gays, lesbians, and the children of
same-sex parents are inferior and, therefore, have a damaging effect on those
students. … It might also undermine the defendants’ efforts to educate the
remaining other students to understand and respect differences in sexual
religious parents, should this view prevail, could not keep their children in
class in good conscience, nor would they be able to remove them.
case illustrates a worrying trend among state and federal courts that prejudice
the rights of religious persons and institutions in the name of other values.
example, courts in California and New York have forced Catholic hospitals to
provide contraceptive coverage as part of their health care plan, finding that
certain visions of “equality” can trump religious beliefs.
California assisted-suicide bill now in the Legislature may have the same
effect. And the explicitly anti-Catholic “Blaine” amendments prohibiting
support for parochial schools still stand in many states.
“new orthodoxy” requires religious institutions to bow to the will of the
state, in the name of whatever principle the legislature may find paramount at
the moment: equality, “death with dignity,” funded access to contraceptives.
There is no principle here except for the will to power and antipathy toward
people, especially Catholics, need to understand that the legal deck in many
ways is stacked against them. This decision is simply one more example.
Gerald J. Russello is a fellow of the Chesterton Institute at Seton
South Orange, New Jersey.