In a case that could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, an appeals panel upheld dismissal of a lawsuit by Massachusetts parents seeking to prevent discussion of homosexual families in their children’s elementary school classrooms.
David Parker and his team of lawyers talk to the press after an earlier court hearing. Left to right: Robert Sinsheimer, Jeffrey Denner, David Parker, Neil Tassel
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday agreed with a judge’s decision last year that a school can expose children to contrary ideas without violating their parents’ rights to exercise religious beliefs.
“Public schools,” wrote Judge Sandra L. Lynch, “are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them.”
Lynch reasoned that schools must accept the Massachusetts high court’s groundbreaking 2003 decision ruling “that the state constitution mandates the recognition of same-sex marriage.”
As WND reported in 2006, U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf dismissed the civil rights lawsuit by David and Tonia Parker of Lexington, concluding there is an obligation for public schools to teach young children to accept and endorse homosexuality.
The Parkers’ lead attorney, Jeffrey Denner, declared after yesterday’s ruling the parents are preparing to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We are fully committed to go forward,” he said, according to the non-profit advocacy group MassResistance. “We will continue to fight on all the fronts that we need to.”
David Parker in handcuffs after he challenged an elementary school’s right to teach his young son about homosexuality
David Parker said the ruling “will surely embolden and enable the schools even more on this if it’s not fought.”
“There’s going to be an accountability, you can count on it,” he said.
The dispute began in the spring of 2005 when the Parkers then-5-year-old son brought home a book to be shared with his parents titled, “Who’s in a Family?” The optional reading material, which came in a “Diversity Book Bag,” depicted at least two households led by homosexual partners.
The Parkers filed suit against the Lexington school district in 2006 and later were joined by Joseph and Robin Wirthlin, whose second-grader’s class was read a story about two princes who become lovers.
In another parents-rights case in Massachusetts, Norfolk Superior Court Judge Patrick F. Brady in December allowed Cohasset Public Schools to move forward with special education for an eighth-grader even though the parents opposed the plan.
MassResistance, which has supported the Parkers, contended Lynch’s opinion virtually ignores a major argument made by the Parkers’ attorney, Rob Sinsheimer, “that the basic constitutional protections of religious belief are being trampled on by the school.”
MassResistance notes Lynch uses the state’s controversial 1999 Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework to justify homosexual-oriented “tolerance” lessons in the lower grades, but she “completely ignores the fact that that document was clearly intended as a non-mandatory, informal set of guidelines.”
The group points out Planned Parenthood is promoting a bill this year to make the document a formal legal guideline.
MassResistance said that to read the concluding words of Lynch’s ruling “is to experience a real sense of the term ‘banality of evil.'”
Lynch reasoned that “the mere fact that a child is exposed on occasion in public school to a concept offensive to a parent’s religious belief does not inhibit the parent from instructing the child differently.”
The opinion said the judges cannot see how the Parker’s son’s “free exercise right was burdened at all: two books were made available to him, but he was never required to read them or have them read to him. Further, these books do not endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, or even address these topics explicitly, but merely describe how other children might come from families that look different from one’s own. There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations.”
The panel said the Wirthlin’s son “has a more significant claim, both because he was required to sit through a classroom reading of ‘King and King’ and because that book affirmatively endorses homosexuality and gay marriage. It is a fair inference that the reading of ‘King and King’ was precisely intended to influence the listening children toward tolerance of gay marriage. That was the point of why that book was chosen and used.”
But the judges also dismissed the Wirthlin’s argument.
“Even assuming there is a continuum along which an intent to influence could become an attempt to indoctrinate, however, this case is firmly on the influence-toward-tolerance end,” the opinion said. “There is no evidence of systemic indoctrination. There is no allegation that Joey was asked to affirm gay marriage. Requiring a student to read a particular book is generally not coercive of free exercise rights.”