A judge this week issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools from testing a revised sex-education curriculum.

The district’s proposed sex-ed program emphasized abstinence. However, the abstinence-only movement was outraged that abstinence would not be taught as a moral absolute, and it declared war.

Maryland parents who believe their teen-agers should be well-educated about health and sexual responsibility — not to mention critical thinking and mature decision-making — are upset at the legal onslaught against them by the abstinence-only movement, according to The Washington Post.

Among the players in the battle over the school district’s curriculum:

  1. The Liberty Counsel is the religious right’s version of the ambulance chaser: Liberty Counsel lawyers travel the nation, suing and insulting anyone whom they disagree with, rallying opposition to either marriage or civil unions for gay couples, and threatening to replace the U.S. judiciary with interns indoctrinated at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
  2. PFOX is a Virginia-based organization of antigay parents and relatives, co-founded by Focus on the Family/FRC operatives. The group’s recent press releases claim to support “tolerance” for gays and exgays. But the organization’s leaders support discrimination and preach stereotypes against gay people.
  3. Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is a toned-down outgrowth of a very angry and arguably bigoted group called Recall the Montgomery County School Board. The recall group sought to dumb down the curriculum with absolutes of good abstinence and evil sex that, while well-intentioned, are notoriously ineffective among teen-agers. CRC takes a different approach: It seeks to repeal the entire curriculum by criticizing small details of the program — details that critics failed to challenge, when given ample opportunity, during the many months in which the curriculum was being planned.

With enemies like these, it should have been a breeze for the district to defend comprehensive, fact-based sex education. But there were problems:

  1. The district’s proposed curriculum included a condom-demonstration video that clearly says abstinence is more reliable than condom use in preventing pregnancy or infection. But is that enough? Pro-exgay pundit Warren Throckmorton weighed in against the video, suggesting that the video should offer encyclopedic knowledge about the risks of condom use, the danger of improper use, and the health dangers of sexually transmitted infections. Teach The Facts defends the video, arguing the district’s previous video is dangerously outdated.
  2. The district’s proposed religious resources for teachers tipped in favor of gay-tolerant religious perspectives; apparently, the desire for children to understand and tolerate one another’s differences, and for gay teen-agers to know where to go for safe spiritual counsel, was considered more important than the need to advertise antigay religious groups or to fuel moral prejudgmentalism among teen-agers. Naturally, that imbalance upset the culture warriors.
  3. Of particular concern to exgays, the district’s proposed program included none of the literature that PFOX demanded. PFOX says, without substantiation, that it was discriminated against because of its message that (all) “gays can change”; critics say that, upon fact-checking PFOX’s literature, most of the information turned out to be false or unverifiable.

Now, while all this will be fought out in court, the teen-agers of Montgomery County are left with an outdated sex-ed program that features many of the problems that, it so happens, are condemned by critics of the new program.

I think The Washington Post maps the right middle ground in a May 6 editorial:

  1. Preserve the curriculum, which is factually sound, sexually conservative, and age-appropriate;
  2. Acknowledge that antigay churches exist, without assuming them to be homophobic; and — here’s my own suggestion —
  3. If exgay resources are to be included in the curriculum, then they must be balanced with ex-exgay resources.

Are PFOX and Warren Throckmorton really willing to allow true balance in sex education?

Update, May 8: Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher criticizes the curriculum for religious bias against antigay churches and for antigay rigidity. Fisher says:

Go ahead and teach about homosexuality, but let the teachers soar: Teach the history, sociology, science and politics of the issue. Let kids read Scripture, court decisions, scientific studies and floor debates.

That sounds to me more like a full-semester college course, or full college major, than a high-school sex-ed curriculum.

Fisher concludes:

To teach about homosexuality, Montgomery must kill this rigid curriculum, stop creating new taboos (adolescents can sniff adult anxiety from miles away) and illuminate all sides.

Dumping the entire the sex-ed curriculum because of one section on homosexuality that needs fixing? That’s a bit extreme.

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