Tug of war over sex education in schools

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The Montgomery County public school system plans to revise its sex-education course, but it first must face the daunting task of reconciling the groups that support and oppose it.

Supporters say they are trying to offer a factual and scientific presentation of human sexuality, including homosexuality, while fending off the repressive impulses of conservative Christians.

Opponents say they are trying to separate fact from opinion in the course and provide the traditional moral views about sexuality that the curriculum ignores or dismisses as being wrong.

Negotiations on the curriculum over the next seven months will determine how children in one of the country’s leading school systems are taught about sexuality for years to come.

County schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast this month suspended the course after a federal judge issued a 10-day restraining order against it being taught in a pilot program at six schools.

Both sides will likely participate in revising the course, but each views the other with suspicion.

Curriculum backers accuse opponents of being part of a national conservative Christian agenda to establish biblical law or a theocracy in America, citing President Bush’s re-election as an example of the strength of the religious right.

“It can’t keep going to the right, or we’re going to end up looking like something that is not a democracy. But I don’t think we will,” said Christine Grewell, a founder of teachthefacts.org, a group that formed to promote the curriculum.

“I think we’re very close to the edge, but we need to stop it. We shouldn’t step off,” Mrs. Grewell said.

On its Web log on April 6, teachthefacts.org posted an entry titled, “Theocrats making their move in our country.” It showed a picture of two women covered head-to-toe in Muslim burkas.

“So here’s the plan. Conservative Christians are going to ‘take back’ America. They will eradicate evil and make sure that all Americans live according to the Gospel,” wrote Jim Kennedy, a federal worker with two children in high school.

“You will dress modestly, abstain from liquor, cigarettes, dancing. Your daughters will learn about sex from their husbands when they marry … You will obey the scriptural laws of the country and will attend services, of course,” he wrote.

Mr. Kennedy’s Web log entry was aimed at critiquing a letter that the Center for Reclaiming America had sent to the county school board to complain about the sex-ed course.

In an April 12 entry, Mr. Kennedy wrote that efforts to stop the sex-ed course were “part of a larger attack on American values” seeking to replace “reasoned thinking” with “superstition.”

Erik Stanley, chief counsel for Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based Christian group representing the groups that filed a federal lawsuit against teaching the course, called talk of creating a theocratic society “ridiculous.”

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