David Fishback responds to PFOX letter


Last month, the Washington Post printed a Letter to the Editor from a Regina Griggs of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, identifying herself as Executive Director of PFOX. If anyone is interested, I provide here a point by point response to her letter.

1. At the outset, she writes:

"Regarding the article about the controversy surrounding the new sex-education curriculum for Montgomery County public school students: As part of the curriculum, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted for materials published by gay advocacy groups while censoring other points of view. For example, one of the board-approved materials urges schools to refer students to select religious groups such as Lutherans Concerned, Dignity for Catholics, Rainbow Baptists and More Light Presbyterians. Advocating certain religions is discriminatory. Nor should teachers be instructed to refer students to religious groups, especially without parental permission. This 'resource' has no place in a school setting."

This is misleading because it implies that "as part of the curriculum" a number of things are said about religion. IN FACT, the ONLY thing stated about religion is the following:

In the 8th Grade FLHS Unit, at Section III ("Cultural and Family Beliefs Can Affect Relationships and Marriage"), Subsection B.3 states "different religions take different stands on sexual behaviors and there are even different views among people of the same religion." Subsection E ("Ways to Manage Problems Created by Contrasting Values") suggests that students may wish to "talk to someone you trust in your: family, school community, neighborhood community, religious community," and "seek out information to help clarify your beliefs and feelings." It is important, also, to remember that Section III deals with a wide range of issues, and makes only passing reference to sexual orientation.

2. Ms. Griggs' allegation that the Board has "censored" other views is an attempt to use a loaded word inappropriately. The teacher resources offered to the Committee by the dissenting members all were premised on the proposition that homosexuality is sinful and/or is a mental illness. As to the former, the proposed revised curriculum, properly, takes no theological position, and makes no religious reference, other than in the material I have just noted. As to the latter, the materials offered by the dissenting members were directly—or by reference to their supporting links and materials—contrary to the conclusions of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional organization. This is no more "censorship" than not offering "creationism" or "intelligent design" in our biology classes in the context of discussions of evolution.

3. In any event, ALL of Ms. Griggs' references are to teacher resources that the Committee believed health education teachers would find useful as background. These resources are not part of the curriculum.

With respect to the particular reference to "Lutherans Concerned, Dignity for Catholics, Rainbow Baptists and More Light Presbyterians," this is part of 10th Grade Teacher Resource that is an article from the December 2002 issue of The Prevention Researcher, a publication that deals with a wide range of health issues, focusing on preventing physical and mental illness. The article is a series of nine questions posed by on-line readers of the publication and answered by Dr. Donna Futterman, MD, and Caitlin Ryan, MSW, authors of Lesbian & Gay Youth: Care and Counseling, published by Columbia University Press. Ms. Griggs quotes from the answer to the second question on p. 4 of the document. Providing this document to teachers does not constitute an instruction or a suggestion that they refer students to these groups. What the document does do is to let teachers know that not all religious communities view homosexuality as sinful.

4. Ms. Griggs then writes:

"Another board-approved resource discusses whether AIDS is God's judgment on homosexuals and whether homosexuality is a sin. Some of the answers are offensive to people of faith. 'Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression,' says one."

That "religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression" is an unfortunate historical fact. Indeed, the Pilgrims themselves came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to leave hatred and oppression in England, fomented by the Established Church there, in the first third of the 17th Century. Protestants in some parts of Europe were hated and oppressed by Catholics, while Catholics in other parts of Europe were hated and oppressed by Protestants, leading to the Thirty Years War (1618-48) during which as much as a third of the population of Central Europe died. In the first half of the 19th Century in this country, Mormons were slaughtered due to religious persecution, leading to their migration to Utah. Until fairly recently, Catholics and Jews in this country were the subject of widespread persecution from adherents of other faiths, notably, but not exclusively, by the Ku Klux Klan, which viewed all religions that were not Protestant as fundamentally un-American. Human slavery of those of African descent was justified from pulpits throughout the Antebellum South, and racial segregation was similarly justified from such pulpits within our own lifetimes.

Religion can be a wonderful, integral part of peoples' lives. It certainly is a large part of mine. But if anyone had any doubts that religion has "been misused to justify hatred and oppression," one would think that the 9/11 attacks would have dispelled such doubts.

5. Ms. Griggs goes on to write that

"the source of that information, Maricopa Community College of Avondale, Ariz., took the material off its Web site in response to our inquiry. Although we advised the board of the college's action, it approved this discredited 'resource' anyway."

Following the Committee's vote to include the noted material as a teacher resource, a then-member of the Citizens Advisory Committee contacted Maricopa Community College (or had someone else make the contact) and "convinced" the school to drop the material. She made reference to this call at the Committee meeting when she sought reconsideration of the use of the Maricopa material. She did the same thing with the Cleveland Clinic's WebMD. Following her telephone calls to the Cleveland Clinic (which I confirmed in conversations with personnel there), the Cleveland Clinic pulled its materials relating to people who are transgendered (materials the Committee had been considering as a teacher resource, but had not yet voted on), although, I am pleased to report, the material has since been reinstated. (In the teacher resources is an article from Discoveryhealth.com on the same subject.)

In light of the history set forth above, it was proper for the Board to refuse to bow to what appear to be intimidation tactics on the part of some opponents of the proposed revised curriculum.

6. Finally, Ms Griggs write that

"The board refuses to explain why it approved these and numerous other materials as school resources while rejecting materials with other points of view. It should hold a public hearing to explain its actions."

What is implicit in Ms. Griggs' letter is her view that the Board has taken an action that is anti-religion. Yet, nothing in the proposed revised curriculum takes a theological position on questions of homosexuality. That a teacher resource mentions the fact that there are religious faith communities that do not view homosexuality as sinful is fairly unremarkable—but is useful, given the very public effort by proponents of the view that homosexuality is sinful to create the impression that all religious people share that view. As discussed above at No. 2, the Committee properly chose not to include in the teacher resources materials rooted in the proposition that homosexuality is a sin or is a disease.

David Fishback
Citizensí Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development

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