- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

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.”

“This is not some kind of nationwide plot to establish a theocracy,” said Mr. Stanley, whose group has ties to Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell. “It’s actually the opposite. We are trying to stop the implementation of radical indoctrination in the school system.

“If one side has been given an unfair advantage in this case, it’s not the Christian conservative side,” Mr. Stanley said. “And we’re not seeking for any particular side to have an advantage.”

Michelle Turner is president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), an ad hoc group that filed the lawsuit against the sex-ed course. She said, “It is loony” to think that theocracy is her group’s goal.

“That’s just so absurd that they would say that, and I would think that the Montgomery County community would find that very insulting,” said Mrs. Turner, who has four children in public schools.

“We are not requiring girls to wear head scarves, and, I’m sorry, the schools opened up the ‘religion store,’ and if they opened it up, they’re going to talk about all of it, not just certain pieces,” she said.

The most explicit mention of religion in the course is in teacher resources that compare denominational views on homosexuality.

However, the CRC says the entire curriculum excludes conservative religious views on homosexuality because the course is based on the unproven assumption that homosexuality is not a choice.

“It really is the clash of two worldviews, one that says homosexuality is innate and another worldview that says it is a choice and it can be dealt with and overcome,” Mr. Stanley said.

The CRC filed the lawsuit with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a Fairfax County group of former homosexuals who say their experience disproves the idea that sexual orientation is immutable from birth.

Mr. Kennedy, who does not follow an organized religion, said CRC and PFOX’s views on homosexuality are “simply a form of bigotry.”

“I don’t think that needs to be in the classroom. Call it unbalanced,” he said.

Some Teach the Facts members say they also are Christians.

“I think [CRC has] a much sterner view of Christianity than I do. It’s kind of like Catholicism versus Unitarianism,” Mrs. Grewell said.

On May 5, U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. ruled that Montgomery County’s course did teach about religious points of view on homosexuality and discriminate against others.

“The revised curriculum presents only one view on the subject — that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle — to the exclusion of other perspectives,” Judge Williams, who was appointed in 1994 by President Clinton, wrote in his 22-page opinion.

On Thursday, the CRC and the schools agreed to extend the judge’s 10-day temporary restraining order through December in hopes of reaching an agreement on revising the curriculum.

CRC attorney John Garza said the group will drop the suit if the school system includes the CRC in the revision.

The group wants the schools to remove a portion that would teach students that homosexuality is not a choice and another that says gender is determined by a student’s “internal sense.”

They also want more information about the health risks of homosexuality included in the course and say too many background materials come from liberal or pro-choice groups such as Advocates for Youth and Planned Parenthood.

A CRC member tried to introduce health statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into the citizens committee that approved the sex-ed materials. But they were rejected on the grounds that similar data were included elsewhere in the health curriculum.

Mrs. Turner said CRC filed its lawsuit because the board refused to meet with them after they presented 3,500 signatures on a petition opposing the sex-ed course last month.

Last week, Newsweek magazine ranked five Montgomery County high schools in the top 100 schools nationally — more than any other county in the country.

Judge Williams recognized that what happens with the county’s sex education will have national impact.

Montgomery County Public Schools “have to be the pacesetter. This is a very important issue,” he said during a May 5 hearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Both sides are resolute, and discussions between them will be limited.

Schools spokesman Brian Porter said that school board President Patricia O’Neil “believes it would be inappropriate to talk with the plaintiffs outside of the ongoing attorney-to-attorney discussions until the litigation is resolved.”

“It’s not that conversations can’t occur,” Mr. Porter said. “It’s that they have to occur within the appropriate legal context.”

The schools have hired a new attorney from the high-powered D.C. law firm of Hogan and Hartson.

“We’re not backing away from this,” Mr. Stanley said. “I would view this case a microcosm of the bigger issue that’s raging in the country.”

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