BOSTON — David and Tonia Parker have spent their life savings and are ready to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend their rights as Christian parents.
The Parkers and another Massachusetts couple pressed forward Dec. 5 with their federal civil rights lawsuit, which will determine whether parents have a say in how human sexuality is portrayed to public schoolchildren as young as kindergarten.
A three-judge panel in the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the religious rights case that has grabbed headlines since 2005.
An array of well-funded national homosexual activist groups are siding with the Lexington, Mass., school system against the parents, who face more than $250,000 in legal costs.
The Parkers and Joseph and Robin Worthlin are appealing the Feb. 23 dismissal of their lawsuit, which contends that the schools violated their constitutional rights by trying to indoctrinate their youngsters with the idea that homosexuality is morally neutral.
The case began when school officials had David Parker arrested for trespassing (a charge later dropped after he spent a night in jail) in a dispute over his kindergarten son being given a book about families with homosexual and “transgender” parents.
In the Worthlins’ case, the book King and King, about a royal same-sex “marriage,” was read to their second-grader. That issue was even addressed in a recent Democratic presidential debate in which no candidate opposed the ideological fairy tale being read to 7-year-olds.
The parents had objected to not being informed that these books would be presented to their children.
But Judge Mark Wolf dismissed the suit. He used as precedent a previous court decision that involved a high school assembly, and said that if parents disagreed with the curriculum, they could remove their children from the system.
Wolf ruled that because Massachusetts allows same-sex “marriage,” the state has a “rational interest” in fostering its acceptance.
Parker said this decision was flawed for several reasons, especially as the law mandates a higher level of “strict scrutiny” in cases involving several constitutional rights: in this case, the free exercise of religion, privacy and due process.
Parents’ rights advocate Brian Camenker, director of the Massachusetts-based Mass Resistance, explained the implications.
“If the homosexual movement can get this lawsuit stopped before it can get started, then Judge Wolf’s hideous ruling from the motion to dismiss would stand as ‘case law’ for the whole country.
“In that ruling, Wolf basically says that the state is required to make children believe that homosexuality is normal and natural in order to make them good citizens,” Camenker said. “This ruling is poised to be the jet fuel that the homosexual movement needs to push their agenda into every school in America.”
His group’s website (massresistance.org) has posted every legal brief filed in the case, which could be decided anytime after Dec. 16.
“If we lose this, we’ll appeal to the Supreme Court,” Parker said in an interview. “We maintain that we don’t lose our First Amendment rights because our child is in public school.”
More than a dozen groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League and the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association, have backed the Lexington schools.
A 50-page amicus brief was also filed against the parents’ appeal by the Human Rights Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association, Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFFLAG).
Their attorney Nima Eshghi argued that public schools should “teach tolerance at an early age, inculcate values, serve as a marketplace of ideas and protect the rights of students to receive information.”
Parker’s attorneys responded that parents, not the state, are the only appropriate guardians of their children’s rights.
“For the town to undertake its own instruction and direction regarding beliefs contrary to [the parents’] religion, without notifying parents, is burdensome in the extreme,” their response stated.
The Boston law firm Denner Pellegrino LLP, which specializes in First Amendment litigation, is representing the parents.
At the hearing, lawyer Neil Tassel noted, “The parents have never tried to suggest what the school can or cannot teach. All they’re seeking is the right to opt out.”
First Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch noted that the law allows for parental notification about sexual health education. However, the schools’ attorney, John Davis, argued that applying the prior notice rule on all classroom discussions would be overly burdensome.
Tonia Parker thought Lynch had good questions for both sides.
“It’s in the Lord’s hands,” she said the next day.
Books about same-sex coupling clearly transmit values even if they aren’t labeled sex education, noted Boston lawyer Daniel Avila, who has followed the case as associate director for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
“Parents shouldn’t have to check their moral values at the door when their kids enter the public school system,” he said later.
Avila pointed out that more California parents reportedly are seeking to home-school since a new state law mandates that teachers portray homosexuality, bisexuality and “transsexuality” in a positive light.
“But in this case, we’re talking about everybody in the jurisdiction of the federal court system, not just parents in California, who’ll be affected if this lower ruling is allowed to stand,” Avila said. “Unfortunately, not all parents can afford to take their kids out of public schools, but this is a decision that people may in good conscience be facing in this clash of value systems.”
Gail Besse is based in Boston.