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Parents rule in sex-ed battle

Education | Judge throws out controversial Maryland school program following strategic grassroots protest

Issue: "An evolving debate," May 21, 2005

Laura Quigley wasn't interested in political activism until she heard a Maryland talk radio host describe what her two children would soon learn in school: People determine their sex by "sensing" whether they are male or female; sex play between same-sex adolescents is normal; teenagers should always wear a condom when engaging in vaginal, oral, or anal sex, as if those were expected practices. Mrs. Quigley couldn't believe her ears. "I was in total amazement," she said.

Amazement turned to anger for more parents when they learned about a new sex-education curriculum the Montgomery County School Board had approved and planned to implement in May 2005. Mrs. Quigley and other parents formed an organization called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), which eventually filed a lawsuit against the school board, seeking to derail the curriculum. A district judge on May 6 ruled in favor of CRC in what Mathew Staver of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel called "the most significant curriculum decision ever rendered." The school system halted the program one day before it was scheduled to begin.

The pilot program for middle schools and high schools would have taught that homosexuality is not a choice, and that religious groups such as "fundamentalists and evangelicals" are intolerant because they teach homosexuality is wrong. High-school students would have also watched a video in which a young teacher demonstrates condom use on a cucumber and tells teens that buying condoms "isn't as scary as you might think."

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A 27-member committee spent three years developing the curriculum, which included supplemental resources from groups like Planned Parenthood and the Family Pride Coalition.

Mr. Staver told WORLD that a member of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) submitted material for the curriculum that was rejected because of its "ex-gay perspective. . . . Anything from any conservative or Christian viewpoint was flatly refused."

One such viewpoint came from Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Mr. Throckmorton wrote an article published by the American Psychological Association in 2002 that presented evidence suggesting homosexuality is not "in-born" and that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. A member of the citizen's committee submitted the paper for inclusion in the curriculum's supplemental resources. The committee rejected the article.

Mr. Throckmorton then wrote a 51-page critique of the proposed curriculum, criticizing the committee for "systematically eliminating any view of homosexuality other than the in-born, hard-wired view." U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams ruled that the curriculum was biased in its teaching about homosexuality and "presents only one view on the subject-that homosexuality is a natural and correct moral lifestyle-to the exclusion of other perspectives."

Parents in favor of the curriculum decried the judge's decision. "It looks like we're in Kansas after all," Charlotte Fremaux, a high-school parent, told The Washington Post. "I'm appalled. I'm appalled. Next, they'll be challenging evolution." Other curriculum supporters accused opponents of intolerance and said the group represented a small fringe of conservatives.

But Mrs. Quigley said more than 4,000 people signed a petition opposing the curriculum, and that CRC has conservative, liberal, religious, and nonreligious members. As for the accusation of intolerance, "the exact opposite occurred," Mr. Throckmorton said. "It's very possible to have respect for people without indoctrinating students with one view of homosexuality," he said. "It's very clear that the committee was intolerant of any other views than its own."

Mr. Staver, whose Liberty Counsel represented the plaintiffs, said the decision was "exceptionally broad" and was "the first of its kind to stop any sex-ed curriculum." Mr. Staver added that while other parents shouldn't "rush to the courts," they should be ready to challenge sex-ed curricula "carefully and strategically."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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