Parents Fight for Rights in Massachusetts
A federal judge dismissed a suit by two couples who argued that the Lexington, Mass., public school system violated their constitutional rights by teaching their children about same-sex couples.
BY GAIL BESSE
March 18-24, 2007 Issue | Posted 3/13/07 at 10:00 AM
LEXINGTON, Mass. — The dilemma facing two Massachusetts couples shows that same-sex “marriage” can deprive parents of control over how public schools teach their children about sexuality.
On Feb. 23, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Worthlin. Last year, they sued the Town of Lexington and school officials, saying their constitutional rights were violated because they couldn’t remove their sons (kindergarten and Grade 2 students) from classroom discussions aimed at normalizing same-sex relationships.
The youngsters were read the books What Makes a Family, about homosexual and “transgender” parents, and King and King, about two men who fall in love, kiss and marry. The Parkers and Worthlins said the material was basically meant to indoctrinate youngsters into accepting the homosexual lifestyle before they had a moral framework in which to understand it.
“Because something is legal doesn’t make it moral, but young children don’t understand the difference yet,” Parker said in an interview. “We had no idea that ‘gay marriage’ would translate into modern-day lynching of parental rights.”
The couples have filed an appeal, but still face $250,000 in legal costs and stiff opposition from the ACLU, the Massachusetts Teachers Union, and nationwide activist groups who joined the town to oppose the parents.
“Massachusetts is a cautionary tale for the rest of the country,” said Dwight Duncan, a Catholic professor at Southern New England School of Law in North Dartmouth, Mass. “This is one of the reasons we’re fighting so hard for a constitutional marriage amendment.”
First District Court Judge Mark Wolf found that although state law allows parents to opt children out of classes about sexual issues, these primary-school book discussions were about “tolerance and diversity” and not human sexuality. He used as precedents previous court decisions that involved older students and ruled that exposing youngsters to this issue is permissible because it’s “preparing students to become engaged and productive members of our democracy.”
However, books about same-sex coupling clearly involve a sexuality component even if they aren’t labeled sex education, noted Daniel Avila, associate director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference in an editorial published March 2 by The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese.
Catholic parents need to take a greater interest in the public school curriculum and become more active, Avila said in an interview.
Another option is to lobby for a stronger opt-out law. “To the extent you don’t allow kids to opt out, you are in a sense indoctrinating them,” Duncan said.
Judge Wolf said parents cannot dictate school curriculum. If they disagreed with it, they could elect school board officials who sided with them or remove their children from the system and either place them in private school or home-school them.
“As a practical matter, the judge’s comments were the truth,” said Duncan. “You can vote with your feet. The problem is this comes with a huge price. You pay your taxes and then you pay again for private school.”
Parents’ rights advocate Brian Camenker, director of the Massachusetts-based Mass Resistance, reacted, “Can you imagine a federal judge in the civil rights era telling blacks the same thing — that if they can’t be served at a lunch counter they should just start their own restaurant, or elect a city council to pass laws that reflect the U.S. Constitution?”
Asked to comment on Camenker’s analogy, Lexington Town Counsel Kevin Batt said, “If you go to a lunch counter that serves only hot dogs and hamburgers, and you want a vegetarian lunch, then you don’t go there.” But, he added, “The school system has never meant any disrespect for the religious views of parents.”
Parker, an evangelical Christian, said later, “Despite the fact that we pay taxes, they said our values are not the same as theirs, so we should go elsewhere. Where are the vouchers?”
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley addressed the controversy March 2 in his blog, cardinalseansblog.org. “Obviously, the Church sees the parents as being the primary educators of their children and having a very special role that must be respected,” he wrote. “This situation with the Parkers and the Wirthlins is just beginning to show how far-reaching and how ill-advised the course of action embraced by our Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts was.
“In Canada, where same-sex ‘marriage’ was legalized in 2005, they are already seeing the many different ways that people’s religious rights are being trampled because of the redefinition of marriage,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “So I am pleased to see that these families are attempting to address the situation through the courts, and we certainly hope they will be successful in their endeavors.”
Parker said he’s pressing the case because he’s ultimately responsible to God for his children.
Gail Besse writes from Boston.
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