(Cue: Loud sigh.)
It is time to open up our Associate Press Stylebooks and read that entry, once again, about what is, sadly, one of the most popular words in modern journalism:
fundamentalist The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.
I bring this up, yet again, because this weekend I was digging through the back pages of a Washington Post edition from last week and I ran into a story with this headline: “Sex-Ed Dispute Aired in Court — Lessons Violate Md. Law, Opponents’ Attorney Tells Judge.”
Now you just know that, even though this ticks off some GetReligion readers, that this is going to turn into a religion story. It took about two paragraphs, starting with the lede by reporter Daniel de Vise:
A six-year battle over the content of a new sex education curriculum in Montgomery County schools came down to two questions posed yesterday in a Rockville courtroom: Can the school board legally teach students that homosexuality is innate? And can the lessons discuss sex acts other than copulation?
Montgomery educators are defending the new curriculum, approved by the school board last summer, which addresses sexual orientation as a classroom topic for the first time. The lessons place the county at the fore of a trend among some of the nation’s public schools toward more candor in discussing homosexuality. But they have prompted a strenuous challenge from religious conservatives who see the curriculum as a one-sided endorsement of homosexuality.
Now the phrase “religious conservatives” is good, although I think there are lots of people in other kinds of sanctuaries who do not believe that science has resolved the entire nature vs. nurture debate. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the status of homosexuality as a condition, in terms of civil-rights status. So the conflict is almost certainly rooted in the complaints of “religious conservatives,” but the issue is broader than that.
But things get worse later on.
The school system began working on the lessons six years ago at the urging of a citizens advisory group, which noted that the old curriculum permitted teachers to speak about homosexuality only in response to a student inquiry.
A first attempt to revise the lessons ended in 2005, when a federal judge found fault with teacher materials that criticized religious fundamentalism. Superintendent Jerry D. Weast withdrew the lessons before they were taught.
So here is the question: Who used the phrase “religious fundamentalism” in this case?
Was it the judge and, if so, why isn’t the phrase inside quotation marks? If the phrase comes from the Post, why was it allowed in the newspaper when the question of the moral status of homosexual acts has nothing to do with “fundamentalism” per se? What about traditional Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers and others who believe that homosexual acts are sinful?
In other words, one does not have to be a “fundamentalist” to believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Why use the word in this case?