Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cancel "Day of Silence" Say Lexington Citizens

Citizens for Freedom
P.O. Box 471
Lexington, MA 02420

An Important Message about the “Day of Silence”

To Our Friends and Supporters in Lexington:

For many parents and residents of Lexington, it is not acceptable to have the public schools taking sides, or even appearing to take sides, in the contentious political and cultural battles that mark the so-called “culture wars.” Last year the town gained national notoriety after a parent was arrested while protesting the schools’ unwillingness to accommodate his request to be notified so that he could withdraw his young son from classroom programs that teach issues of human sexuality from a perspective contrary to his personal values.

Many of these programs may appear harmless individually. But taken as a whole, they could reasonably be construed to present a political position on the part of the Lexington school administration. Students get the message that there is a right way to look at these issues (represented by the schools’ point of view) and a wrong way, represented by reactionary or bigoted parents. The divisive results of this policy were seen last year, and will be seen again this year.

A central aspect of the controversy is the normalization of homosexual relationships. Since the Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled in the Goodridge decision that homosexuals could not be denied the right to marry, many believe the matter has been settled and there is no longer any reasonable ground for debate within the community. They believe that homosexual relationships are fully equal to heterosexual relationships, both before the law, and in terms of societal value. Thus they believe the teachings in the schools must reflect and encourage the acceptance of this change.

The reality, however, is quite different. Nothing approaching a consensus on this issue exists anywhere in the country. The entire issue remains a contentious and emotional one.

It is even more difficult when children are brought into the picture at a young age. Clearly, it is much easier to influence the opinions of the next generation if you are the first to teach them, while their minds are still immature and impressionable. The problem is that even in a town as liberal as Lexington, many parents do not wish their children to be taught that homosexuality is the equal of heterosexuality as a lifestyle choice. This has nothing to do with the fact that all people regardless of personal background are entitled to the protection of the laws on an equal basis.

The matter is only made worse when parents who do object are branded as bigots or haters, and when the school administrators refuse to listen; and when virtually the entire town government lines up at a demonstration disparaging the legitimate rights of residents who object to their children being used as pawns in a cultural battle.

CFF believes there is a constitutional requirement for the schools to remain strictly neutral with respect to religious, political or cultural particularities. As an example, students in the local schools come from a variety of religious backgrounds, including no religion. No one is suggesting that the schools must assert that all these religions, including atheism, are equally good and valid positions. No one is suggesting such an approach is necessary in order for children from these differing backgrounds to feel equally accepted in the school environment, or that the failure to do so constitutes some kind of discrimination.

Schools must be places where children from various backgrounds can feel at home without the pressures to conform to one or the other side in contentious political or religious disputes. We believe the schools can be made safe and welcoming places without involving students in the issues that divide and inflame their parents. To the contrary, the very introduction of these disputes makes the schools more divided, less safe, and less welcoming for all.

There are many ways in which mutual respect and tolerance can be taught in the schools. The coerced acceptance of non-traditional sexuality is not one of them.

What follows is an Open Letter to Dr. Paul Ash and the Lexington School Committee, which asks them to disassociate the schools from the upcoming Day of Silence and from the organizations that promote it. ... It will be sent to Dr. Ash and the members of the School Committee, and published in a local paper. ...

If you are a Lexington resident we strongly urge you to endorse this letter. Email your response to and say, I endorse the Open Letter, The schools, the students, and the town as a whole will be better off when the schools are returned to neutrality around this and other divisive issues.

Posted by John Moriarty and Jed Snyder

An Open Letter to Dr. Paul Ash and the Lexington School Committee

April, 2006

We the undersigned members of the Lexington Community call upon Superintendent Paul Ash and the Lexington School Committee to disassociate the schools from the annual Day of Silence scheduled for this month. By endorsing this event, the school administration is needlessly dividing the community and putting the town at the risk of eventual litigation over constitutional violations.

Whatever positive results were supposed to come from this staged event, they have not materialized. To the contrary, the Day of Silence has resulted in a more divided community, with students demonstrating less tolerance, and more stress and name-calling on both sides. Last year this intolerance culminated in a physical assault on a student who peacefully dissented from this activity. Programs that purport to teach respect and tolerance should not result in physical assaults on peaceful students simply because they hold to a different set of values from those being promoted by the schools.

Moreover, it is not the business of the public schools to challenge students’ core beliefs and values by applying pressure, subtle or otherwise, to get them to conform their thinking to a particular political or cultural viewpoint. The considerable persuasive power of teachers as role models should be used to encourage those values the entire community can unite in embracing, not to choose sides in contentious cultural issues.

For students, there is no reasonable way to opt-out of the Day of Silence. It is a school wide, day long event. By endorsing this event, the school leadership is sending a strong message to all those who do not share the views of the event’s organizers that they are unwelcome in the schools when the Day of Silence and related programs are taking place.

Welcoming children and adults from a variety of backgrounds is a worthy goal we can support as a community. But we cannot all support the Day of Silence, or the views and actions of its organizers. Practicing toleration and respect does not mean we must endorse others’ lifestyle choices any more than it means we must endorse others’ religious choices. It does not mean that the gay community must be upheld year after year as history’s most prominent victims. Respect does not come through coercion, whether subtle or blunt.

The public schools belong to all the citizens of Lexington, not just those who subscribe to one favored point of view. The school administration has already demonstrated that it is incapable of guaranteeing the physical safety of students who do not wish to participate in this divisive annual ritual. This year, we urge you to take the first step in returning the public schools to the practice of political neutrality, where students, parents and teachers from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs can feel equally safe, welcomed and at home. Cancel the Day of Silence.