On Religion - Part 2
Warning – this blog entry concerns my thoughts on religion… right or wrong; for better or worse – and I specifically trash Baptists who, for the most part, I hold in contempt. If you are a Baptist, a person of faith, or are otherwise easily offended, you should not read this blog entry. Consider yourself warned!
In my quest to understand the (often) confusing Baptist mind, I offer the following true story. This event happened at our local high school... the school that both of my stepchildren attended. However strange it might be, it seems that some Baptists don’t like other Baptists for whatever reasons. Because there are a number of Baptist sects, I suppose there are also degrees of adherence to the faith. The parents in the following missive certainly seemed to consider themselves to be truer followers of the faith than those parents whose children formed the group in question. So, I guess it’s okay for one Baptist to trash another Baptist… even though both would tell you that it is not proper for one person to judge another! Well, as it’s often said, religion and politics both make strange bedfellows! All quotes, by the way, are taken from actual published court documents and newspaper articles!
In 2002, students at BCHS petitioned the Board of Education to form a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) group in an effort to bring together all students, regardless of sexual orientation, in order to “foster a climate of tolerance" in their school and community. The group was subsequently sanctioned by the Board. Immediately, the group became the target of both severe verbal and physical abuse by students who were determined to not let the GSA force homosexuality upon them. Under pressure from area parents (including the parents of the protesting students) who were disgusted by the thought that, not only were gay students attending the school and, in their own words “promoting the gay lifestyle and turning otherwise straight students into gays", the school shut down the group. To be fair, the school suspended all non-academic school groups, but all – with the exception of the GSA – were allowed to start up again after a time.
Well, the ACLU stepped in and brought a federal suit against the Board for shutting down the club in what was clearly an action against homosexuals and their federally protected status under the Equal Access Act. After 12 months of controversy and local media hype, the Board finally settled with the ACLU and, as part of that settlement, agreed to mandatory sensitivity and tolerance training for all students at the high school, as well as a ban on anti-gay harassment both physical and verbal. This was generally hailed as a victory for the students who formed the GSA, but several families had a real problem with this… claiming that the mandatory training violated both their religious and free-speech rights by promoting a lifestyle to which they didn’t subscribe.
At the center of the issue was a training video, which covered sexual orientation, gender identity and anti-harassment issues. The video featured school employees and others who asserted that homosexuality is an unchangeable characteristic.
On behalf of those parents and students who objected, the ADF filed suit against the Board on the grounds that the ACLU settlement was discriminatory on three fronts: “first, parental rights were violated by the mandatory attendance at gay tolerance and anti-harassment training; second, the students’ free speech rights were infringed by the settlement’s verbal anti-gay harassment restriction; and third, the information contained in the training maintained that homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable – a totally non-scientific assertion that is universally disputed by those outside of pro-gay advocacy". It’s interesting to note that these are the same people who forced schools to put a disclaimer at the front of science textbooks to the effect that evolution is only a theory and that creationism is an equally valid theory. But… I digress!
Well, rather than make exceptions for the students of those parents who objected, and fearing its tenuous legal position, the school made only a token effort to conduct the anti-harassment training. After considering their position, the ACLU asked a federal judge, in 2005, to reopen the case against the Board. The federal district court eventually ruled that the diversity training offered by the school “does not violate the free speech, equal protection, or free exercise of religion rights of students and parents who object to the training despite the fact that it calls for tolerance of homosexuality."
The federal district court ruled that “the training videos in question are not school-sponsored speech but government speech and, as such, are not required to be viewpoint neutral, provided the content is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. After reviewing the training materials, the court concluded they were viewpoint neutral and neither favored any particular viewpoint nor elevated one opinion over the other. In addition, students were given the opportunity to comment on the training without parameters or threat of punishment. Turning to the free exercise of religion claim, the court rejected the students’ argument that the training sought to change their religious and ideological views on homosexuality. Even though the training offended their religious beliefs, the court found, it failed to place a burden upon the exercise of their religion. The court pointed out that there was no evidence that any student was compelled to renounce his or her religious beliefs. Lastly, the court rejected the parents’ claim that the training violated their constitutional right to direct their children’s religious and educational upbringing. Parents do not have the right to impede the school board’s reasonable pedagogical prerogative of complying with a previous lawful court order by insisting on being able to opt their children out of required training."
I believe the court made the right decision. In fact, I think the whole suit was completely unnecessary. I mean… I don’t have a problem if Baptists believe that homosexuality is a sin and evil, as long as they don’t try to make me believe the same thing. While they may feel duty bound as good Christians to promote their beliefs, I have the right to disagree – and disagree vehemently if necessary. The students who formed the GSA were not gay (and if they were… well, so what?) and were certainly not preaching the virtues of a homosexual lifestyle. They were preaching tolerance… something which Baptists just don’t seem to understand. For a Christian group that espouses a firm belief in being non-judgmental, Baptists seem to go out of their way to judge others.
It’s interesting to note that the GSA disbanded within a few months of the ACLU’s initial law suit and their faculty advisor left the high school… and the saga continues.