Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Montgomery County school board surprised opponents of its sex-education curriculum last week by dropping the curriculum and dissolving the committee that created it. Coming from one of Maryland’s most liberal counties, the move is a clear victory for reasonable sex education. Now, Montgomery County should use the opportunity to build a curriculum that focuses on education — one that doesn’t push ideological agendas, and one that respects parents’ and students’ rights and remains open to viewpoints from outside the education establishment.

At the very least, Montgomery County showed what not to do: Don’t stack advisory committees with advocates of “transgenderism” and homosexuality; don’t quash opposing viewpoints you happen not to like; and don’t make unwarranted distinctions between religious groups. Even in a liberal county, even in a region with liberal federal judges, public opposition will mount and a jurist will spot the constitutional problems.

The point of a sex-education curriculum is to teach facts about sex, not to propagate dubious theories. If such theories are put forward, then, at minimum, alternative approaches must also be presented. In Montgomery County, they were not. That was one of the principal reasons why Judge Alexander Williams Jr., the Clinton appointee who blocked the curriculum last month, ruled against the school board, citing First Amendment protections for free speech and expression.

The other reason was that the school board presumed it could pass judgment on certain religions on the basis of their teachings on homosexuality. The public expression of such preferences by government entities are at best constitutionally suspect, but apparently the board wasn’t aware of this. Thus it cited Quakers and Unitarians as right-thinking denominations while singling out Baptists for scorn. “Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression,” it stated. “Less than half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible.” All of which says far more about the curriculum’s authors than it does about Baptists or Quakers.

Calling such sentiments “viewpoint discrimination,” Judge Williams ruled that “the public interest is served by preventing Defendants from promoting particular religious beliefs in the public schools and preventing Defendants from disseminating one-sided information on a controversial topic.”

We hope the rest of the country is watching. Specifically, we hope the sexperts and education activists learn that even in the country’s most liberal regions, they cannot expect to foist dubious ideologies onto the public under the guise of public health.

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