Sunday, January 02, 2005

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

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 thatinformation, 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'

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 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 writes 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
Citizens’ Advisory Committee
on Family Life and Human Development


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