This is the kind of thing that drives conservative parents up the wall, and serves to highly charge the cultural debate surrounding the whole issue. I will say this again: Schools are for teaching facts, not indoctrinating viewpoints (and please spare me a discussion about relative perspectives and how all “facts” are indoctrinating viewpoints – you know very well what I mean).
[Eugene Volokh, May 6, 2005 at 1:44pm] 4 Trackbacks / Possibly More Trackbacks
School District Trying to Spread False Information About Homosexuality, Using Illogical Arguments, and Violating the Establishment Clause: Yes, that seems to be so, if the facts described in this opinion are accurate ( http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/Opinions152/Opinions/CRC050505.pdf ). The Montgomery Count Public Schools are apparently trying to adopt a “Revised Curriculum” for sex education classes, aimed at rebutting hostility towards homosexuality. Unfortunately:
A. The curriculum involves the public school unconstitutionally taking a stand on theological questions (as the court correctly held). Consider this excerpt from a “Myths and Facts” handout that was part of the curriculum:
[i]Myth: Homosexuality is a sin.
Facts: The Bible contains six passages which condemn homosexual behavior. The Bible also contains numerous passages condemning heterosexual behavior. Theologians and Biblical scholars continue to differ on many Biblical interpretations. They agree on one thing, however. Jesus said absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality. Among the many things deemed an abomination are adultery, incest, wearing clothing made from more than one kind of fiber, and earing shellfish, like shrimp and lobster.
Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression. Less than a half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible. Early Christians were not hostile to homosexuals. Intolerance became the dominant attitude only after the Twelfth Century. Today, many people no longer tolerate generalizations about homosexuality as pathology or sin. Few would condemn heterosexuality as immoral ? despite the high incidence of rape, incest, child abuse, adultery, family violence, promiscuity, and venereal disease among heterosexuals. Fortunately, many within organized religions are beginning to address the homophobia of the church. The Nation Council of Churches of Christ, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches support full civil rights for gay men and lesbians, as they do for everyone else.[/i]
This material, which the school would apparently be conveying as its own views:
Describes one interpretation of the Bible as “myth.”
Suggests that the most important question in interpreting the Bible is what Jesus said, and that the Bible’s use of “abomination” in different contexts should lead us to think that the items thus labeled are morally equivalent ? not implausible claims about Scriptural interpretation, but nonetheless claims about Scriptural interpretation.
Implicitly ? but I think quite strongly ? suggests a particular reading of the Bible is theologically correct.
Condemns particular religious groups by name, not just as part of a discussion of history, but in an attempt to discredit the present religious teachings of at least some religious groups (quite possibly the same ones).
Specifically praises by name certain denominations ? again, not just in a context which seems to be describing the facts, but one which suggests that their theology is more sound.
The Court has repeatedly held that the Establishment Clause bars public schools from endorsing and disapproving of theological beliefs. Schools are quite free to express the view on whether homosexuality is wrong and on whether hostility to homosexuality is wrong; that some view on a secular topic corresponds to or is opposed to a religion’s view doesn’t keep the school from teaching that view. But schools are not free to express views on how the Bible should be interpreted, what is or is not sin from the Biblical perspective, and which religious groups have good interpretations of the Bible and which have bad ones.
B. The curriculum contains at least one factual error, and quite possibly others (though as to the others the matter is more complex). The curriculum says that “a significant percentage of the population is gay, lesbian or bisexual (Approximately 1 in 10).” Earlier, the curriculum makes clear that it treats whether “a person is a homosexual” as a matter of what constitutes his “long-term sexual orientation,” not whether someone has had at least one same-sex attraction or experience. Under that definition, the best evidence is that the about 2-3% of all U.S. residents are homosexual ( http://volokh.com/2002_04_21_volokh_archive.html#75753666 ); the number might be somewhat different in Canada, but I suspect not vastly. The 10% estimate has long been discredited.
C. More importantly, the curriculum is chock full of unsound reasoning, the very sort of thing we shouldn’t be teaching kids. For starters, labeling moral claims as “Myth” (e.g., “Myth: Children raised by gay men and lesbians will be exposed to an ‘immoral’ environment”) and “Fact” (e.g., “Fact: Morality is concerned with principles of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behavior”) strikes me as erroneous and unhelpful. Even if one believe that certain things are objectively immoral, one should recognize that such a judgment is not the sort of thing that one should label “fact”; if anything, we should be teaching students to better distinguish facts from value judgments, even while recognizing that value judgments may be very important and even objectively right.
Moreover, consider this item: “Myth: If you are ‘straight,’ you can become a homosexual.” “Fact: Most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice.” That “most experts” conclude something doesn’t make it a fact; one would think that the fact that some experts conclude the opposite should be occasion for students to express some doubt and healthy skepticism, but the curriculum tells them that, no, most experts say it, so it’s a fact.
Or how about this? “Myth: Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals do not make good parents.” “Fact: One out of four families has a lesbian, gay or bisexual in the immediate family. Heterosexual parents are consistently not found to be more loving or caring than gay parents.” I’d hope that any teacher who teaches logical reasoning would give a pretty low grade to a paper that says that. The first part of the “Fact” is a non sequitur (even if it’s factually accurate, which I doubt); whether or not a family has a lesbian, gay or bisexual “in the immediate family” tells us nothing about whether lesbians, gays, and bisexuals make good parents. The second part is at least logically related to the attempt to rebut the “Myth” ? but how? Even if it true, it merely shows that heterosexual parents are not more loving or caring than gay parents (which is a somewhat imprecise way, I take it, of saying “lesbian, gay male, or bisexual parents”); but there are lots of other ways in which people can be not very good parents than by being un-loving or un-caring.
There’s more of the same, but let’s leave it at that for now.
I should say, as I’ve generally said before, that (1) I don’t think homosexuality is morally wrong, (2) I would want to teach my children to be tolerant of homosexuality, (3) schools inevitable teach some non-universally-accepted moral values, (4) schools should teach children to be tolerant of homosexuality at least to the extent that students don’t beat up or taunt others based on their homosexuality or perceived homosexuality, and (5) there’s a perfectly plausible argument for schools teaching children tolerance of homosexuality more broadly. (I’m more tentative as to item 5 simply because while I think that values teaching is inevitable, which highly controversial values should be taught in a public school is a complex question.)
But such teaching should at least comply with the Constitution, avoid falsehoods, and avoid fallacies. Good motives don’t justify bad teaching.