This column was written by Hadley Arkes.
A federal district judge in Maryland has jolted the local liberal establishment in Montgomery County by blocking a pilot program in sex education. The program was designed to sweep away the "myths"--the lingering moral inhibitions and retrograde theological teachings--that apparently feed reservations, still widely held, about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Judge Alexander Williams Jr. put the kibosh on this plan, and the jolt has had a deeper resonance, not least because Williams happens to be a Clinton appointee. But the lasting tremors come from the fact that the decisive strands in his May 5 judgment are lines of argument that have been used most often by the left: The judge invoked the concern for an establishment of religion, and beyond that, he raised the charge, under the First Amendment, that people with discordant views were being blocked from the public square.
The action in this case came in one of the most liberal counties in Maryland, encompassing the suburbs of Washington, D.C. An advisory committee was put together in November 2002 to recommend a new program of "health education" dealing with "sexual variation." The program, when it was finally written, reflected the liberal orthodoxy of the education establishment. With the claim to teach in an authoritative way about health and sex, the program put forth a series of "myths" to be corrected with "facts." But the myths were not all mythical, nor the facts all factual. And the authors could not restrain themselves from pronouncing on the moral dimness of people holding opposing views, including the theological backwardness of those religions that continue to honor the tradition of Jewish and Christian teaching on these matters.
The committee "informed" students, then, that "approximately 1 in 10" people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (That figure has long been discredited; more sober estimates put the figure closer to 2 percent). By any realistic measure, the epidemic of HIV infection is attributable overwhelmingly to the sexual practices of gay men. But the report, offering instruction in health, glides past the issue of fatal diseases by noting merely that "other groups are catching up"--e.g., intravenous drug users and "heterosexual women (17-30 years old)."
The committee assured students that homosexuality is no more abnormal than left-handedness. In contrast, "homophobia rather than homosexuality should be cured." What critics offer as moral reservations are reduced then to a psychological disorder; they do not elicit reasons to deal with their arguments, but therapy. Morality itself, the committee told students, is a "subjective issue . . . based on beliefs and values," which differ among communities according to their histories and conventions.
As for biblical teaching, the committee noted that the Bible contains numerous passages condemning the practices of heterosexuals. Among the things condemned have been "adultery, incest, wearing clothing made from more than one kind of fiber, and eating shellfish, like shrimp and lobster." The implication, of course, is that the Jewish rules on kashrut in eating and clothing are just so many conventions that most thoughtful people would regard as quaint, without moral force. "Fortunately," said the committee, "many within organized religions are beginning to address the homophobia of the church," by which they mean, of course, the Catholic church. By way of contrast they laud, among others, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Society of Friends (Quakers), for supporting "full civil rights for gay men and lesbians." Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Orthodox Jews--these are apparently the retrograde religions, for in holding to their traditional teaching, even as they minister to gays and lesbians, they deny the civil rights of these Americans.
With no sense that there was anything the least problematic in this approach, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to install this new regimen for eighth and tenth-graders in six schools, beginning in May 2005. But the move drew a lawsuit by parents and citizens, organized into the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, along with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX).
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