- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

An 18-year-old girl and her mother are suing Ann Arbor, Mich., public schools for censoring the girl's religious beliefs on homosexuality.

During Pioneer High School's "2002 Diversity Week" in March, administrators deleted references to homosexuality from the text of an address given by senior Betsy Hansen.

"Sexuality implies an action, and there are people who have been straight, then gay, then straight again," Miss Hansen wrote in the deleted portion. "I completely and wholeheartedly support racial diversity, but I can't accept religious and sexual ideas or actions that are wrong."

The Ann Arbor school system, whose teachers and students are on summer break, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But attorneys for Miss Hansen, a Roman Catholic, said the school told their client her speech violated its nondiscrimination policy.

Administrators who deleted the text told Miss Hansen her opinions were negative and would "water down [the] positive" message they were trying to convey during Diversity Week.

"These nondiscrimination policies are typically used as weapons against free speech, particularly against traditional Christians," said Robert Muise, the Hansens' attorney. "Anything critical of homosexual activity is labeled 'hate speech.'"

Miss Hansen said her speech was in response to a new Homosexuality and Religion panel that featured several local clergy who agreed homosexual behavior was compatible with religion. Miss Hansen and other students had offered to find panel members, such as a local Catholic priest, who could present an alternative viewpoint. But school officials rejected the proposal. They instead selected the faculty adviser of the Gay Straight Alliance to moderate the discussion, forbade students from interacting with panelists and pre-screened student questions.

In a memo the day before, teacher Sunnie Korzdorfer warned students participating in the discussions that their "comments cannot directly target another group's beliefs, values, culture or sexual orientation."

"You may only talk about your god or your concept of heaven or hell in a general sense," she added. "Any staff member has the right to ask/demand that you rethink or redirect your comments."

Mr. Muise said Miss Hansen was chosen to give one of three student addresses on diversity as a way of "appeasing" her religious views against homosexuality.

But Mr. Muise said the school's removal of the only critical portions of Miss Hansen's speech, rather than facilitating discourse, favored a specific agenda being "pushed in public schools all over the country by certain special interest groups."

"Why is this social engineering taking place?" he asked. "They usurped parental rights. They didn't even tell parents that this was happening."

Miss Hansen's lawsuit states that her traditional Catholic beliefs were silenced as part of a coordinated effort by school officials to make sure no real debate occurred.

The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Miss Hansen and her mother at no charge, filed the complaint July 10 seeking declarative and injunctive relief with the Eastern District Court of Michigan.

Among those named in the lawsuit are the Ann Arbor Public Schools, Pioneer Principal Henry Caudle, Assistant Principal Lara Erickson and three teachers including Miss Korzdorfer.

Mr. Muise is waiting to serve the lawsuit when classes resume in August.

"This case is not about recovering money, but upholding constitutional rights," he said.

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