Fundies on the march, yet again

marycheneybaby onesie(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?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    The legal dispute centered on the curriculum’s use of “Fundamentalists” specifically being opposed to homosexuality. Thus, it was Fundamentalists–and Baptists specifically–who were the source of the alleged Constitutional violation.

    http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/Opinions152/Opinions/CRC050505.pdf

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    So the actual wording of the curriculum was wrong?

    So the materials dealt with the objections of various religious groups, or it simply, and inaccurately, singled out Baptists?

    I wish that doc wasn’t a pdf….

  • Michael

    So the actual wording of the curriculum was wrong?

    The wording of the curriculum included “Fundamentalists” and then a discussion of Baptists and slavery/civil rights.

    If you search for

    Civil Action No. AW-05-1194

    you can see a non-pdf of the judge’s decision.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NonDualBibleVerses/ Eric Chaffee

    tmatt said “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?”

    If the neighbors would let those who think themselves “fundamentally queer” get married then it seems reasonable there would be less sex outside of marriage. But those gay folks are caught in a vicious circle. They’re condemned for who they innately see themselves to be; and they’re condemned to continue to be out of bounds, because the same people who condemn them for their misbehavior, prevent them from being whole.

    Sorta like the sportscasting journalist everyone “loved to hate,” some years ago, named Howard Cosell. (He was very popular in hated way, until he made a racial fauxpas, and got the ax, joining Don Imus in retirement.) CAUTION: Words are sharp. Handle with care. Injury may result.

    ~eric.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Eric:

    That clash is real, yes. The question in that case is whether (a) the word “marriage” should be at stake in this, a matter of legal redefinition and (b) whether anyone on the cultural left or right would dare propose a real compromise on the issue that protects secular rights for gays and lesbians and leaves religious liberty and freedom of association intact. The issue in public schools is a MAJOR issue, perhaps threatening the entire future of public schools, period.

  • Dennis Colby

    The ruling quotes the curriculum thusly: “Fundamentalists are more likely to have negative attitudes about gay people than those with other religious views.”

    The First Amendment problem, as the ruling explains, is that the curriculum slights specific religious groups at the expense of others.

    It’s a little difficult to tell, though, because the curriculum explicitly refers to Baptists as accepting racial segregation in earlier eras, and then implies current opposition to homosexuality is of similar character. But both the curriculum and the ruling seem a little confused, referring to “the Baptist Church,” seemingly unaware of the wide degree of theological differences between the many groups who self-identify as Baptists.

    At any rate, the curriculum clearly sets forward a list of churches whose views it agrees with (Unitarians, Quakers, Anglicans of Canada), which the court balks at.

    But it appears the appearance of the “f word” came from the curriculum, although I don’t know if the reporter was aware of that.

  • Dennis Colby

    After looking through the ruling, I think this sentence might be a bit of an oversimplification:

    “A first attempt to revise the lessons ended in 2005, when a federal judge found fault with teacher materials that criticized religious fundamentalism.”

    The main problem seemed to be that the curriculum was favoring the views of specific religious groups and criticizing the views of other religious groups, which set up First Amendment problems. I know that space is limited in newswriting, but saying the judge found fault with materials that “criticized religious fundamentalism” seems to be only skimming the surface.

    Thanks to Michael, by the way, for posting the ruling.

  • Martha

    Okay – the “innate” thing is disputable. There are some indications for a genetic basis, and some indications against it. Let’s just say for the moment the jury is out.

    Now, if by this they mean “this programme wants to teach definitively as a proven fact that homosexuality is genetically pre-ordained and that’s that”, then no, not so much.

    I really don’t see where the curriculum should be discussing religion in this, never mind patting some (enlightened) religious groups on the back, and finger-wagging at others.

    Sexuality and relationships education in one class; anti-discrimination laws in civics (or whatever it’s called nowadays); the religious aspect in religion class.

    Except that, by my understanding, you can’t have religion classes in American public schools (correct me if I’m wrong). So that’s a problem right there: you’re shoehorning in “But miss, my parents say that’s a sin” into a class that’s not set up to deal with that question.

  • Martha

    Oh, my.

    Having read the choice excerpts from the “Revised Curriculum” as presented in the judgement, there are two of the “Myths and Facts” sections that would make me go “Hmmm” if a child of mine brought them home (and one would make me say more than just “Hmmm”).

    “The Myths and Facts worksheet, which asks the students to answer whether a given statement is true or false, and then provides them with the answer, states, in pertinent part:

    3. Loving people of the same sex is immoral (sinful).
    Many religious denominations do not believe this. For example, in 2002 the Anglican Church of Canada began ritual blessings of same-sex unions. What is universally understood is that intolerance and hatred is wrong.”

    (To which I’d probably say “Well, we’re Catholics, so it doesn’t matter to us what the Anglican Church of Canada does.” And it’s not about ‘loving people of the same sex’: I love people of the same sex, e.g. my sister. But that’s just quibbling about the wording).

    “The Revised Curriculum also incorporates a “Myths And Facts” handout, which MCPS appears to have pulled off of the website of the Family Pride Coalition, a group dedicated to “[e]quality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents and their families.” This handout contains a section entitled “Morality,” which reads as follows:

    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 eating 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.”

    Ah, the good old “Jesus never said…” argument. Jesus never said anything about slavery or sweated labour, either, but I don’t think that would be accepted as indicating approval or at least permission.

    And if “incest” is listed along with “eating shellfish” as an example of an abomination of ancient days but We Don’t Think That Anymore, is that supposed to mean “Go ahead! Sleep with your brother! Here’s a list of churches that will give you a blessing!”, really?

    Yes. You wouldn’t have to be a Bible-bashing snake-handler to raise an eyebrow at that bit.

  • http://www.draknet.com/proteus Judy Harrow

    Terry suggests (in *5) that we need:

    a real compromise on the issue that protects secular rights for gays and lesbians and leaves religious liberty and freedom of association intact.

    Excuse me? Is anybody suggesting that the government should tell religious groups what rituals (of marriage or anything else) they should or should not conduct? Or whom they should or should not admit into their congregations? Not that I’ve heard.

    The idea is to give full and equal *legal* protection to gay and lesbian relationships. What gay folk do in their own lives does not harm or threaten the different choices others may make, for religious or whatever other reasons. It’s just a question of live and let live.

    What happens in church (mosque, synagogue, temple …) is an entirely separate question.

  • Jerry

    I really agree with what Martha wrote. I live on left side of the street but I find that summary very biased. I would tear that up and make a simple statement that religions see sexual orientation differently. I would go further than Martha about the meaning of the word love. Conflating “love” with sex is all too common in our sex drenched culture.

  • Dale

    Dennis Colby said:

    I think this sentence might be a bit of an oversimplification:

    “A first attempt to revise the lessons ended in 2005, when a federal judge found fault with teacher materials that criticized religious fundamentalism.”

    That sentence goes beyond a bit of oversimplification. It intentionally downplays the very strong language the District Court Judge used:

    The Court is extremely troubled by the willingness of Defendants to venture —or perhaps more correctly bound — into the crossroads of controversy where religion, morality, and homosexuality converge. The Court does not understand why it is necessary, in attempting to achieve the goals of advocating tolerance and providing health-related information, Defendants must offer up their opinion on such controversial topics as whether homosexuality is a sin, whether AIDS is God’s judgment on homosexuals, and whether churches that condemn homosexuality are on theologically solid ground.

    The Court didn’t merely “find fault” with the curriculum; the Court found that to permit the school district to impose the curriculum on the plaintiffs would cause “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs by violating both the free speech and the non-establishment clauses of the first amendment. In lay terms, this was a “slam dunk” violation of the first amendment.

    Without including the previous judge’s strong language, the Washington Post article loses context. There’s good reason why the plaintiffs would be suspicious of any curricula on sexuality produced by the defendant.

  • Michael

    The Court didn’t merely “find fault” with the curriculum; the Court found that to permit the school district to impose the curriculum on the plaintiffs would cause “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs by violating both the free speech and the non-establishment clauses of the first amendment. In lay terms, this was a “slam dunk”
    violation of the first amendment.

    Actually, it wasn’t. The decision was merely a ruling for a TRO and the judge was weighing the likelihood of success. While it is likely there would be a First Amendment violation found after there had been a full review by the court, the judge didn’t find there was one. It’s a subtle difference, but still a different.

    Without including the previous judge’s strong language, the Washington Post article loses context. There’s good reason why the plaintiffs would be suspicious of any curricula on sexuality produced by the defendant.

    Well, the judge’s decision was three years ago. As stories go, the judge’s ruling was “old news” and probably didn’t need a complete rehashing. The Post has probably written 25 stories since the judge’s ruling came out and therefore it doesn’t seem necessary to rehash it. The summary seemed appropriate to me.

  • Dale

    The decision was merely a ruling for a TRO and the judge was weighing the likelihood of success.

    There’s nothing “mere” about a TRO. As the court notes, it’s an extraordinary remedy. The standard of review the court applies to a TRO is higher/more favorable to defendant than the standard of review it would apply to the same facts presented at trial. So it was a clear violation of the first amendment, and the reporter was soft-peddling it.

  • Dennis Colby

    So it was a clear violation of the first amendment, and the reporter was soft-peddling it.

    Along with the “intentionally downplays” bit, I take issue with imputing motives to the reporter in the absence of evidence. How do we know the reporter even read the court’s decision? How do we know the reporter didn’t write something different and see it edited for “clarity”?

  • str1977

    As usual, Martha is spot on. I was in particular intrigued by that passage from the curriculum:

    Intolerance became the dominant attitude only after the Twelfth Century. Today, many people no longer tolerate generalizations about homosexuality as pathology or sin.”

    Did they admit to their own intolerance in purpose or was it a slip?

    Needless to say that the paper is itself engaging in “generalizations about homosexuality as (non-)pathology or (non-)sin”.

    Judy blasts Terry’s demand for

    “a real compromise on the issue that protects secular rights for gays and lesbians and leaves religious liberty and freedom of association intact.”

    Well, somehow the fact that homosexual couples cannot marry each other consitutes a violation of their rights. (I can’t tell why but some people say it does.) And then, bashing some religious denominations and engaging in twisted exegesis is not a violation of the First Amendment.

    “What gay folk do in their own lives does not harm or threaten the different choices others may make, for religious or whatever other reasons.”

    But no one actually disputed that. Homosexual “marriage” is a completely different issue.

    And I agree with Dennis that we do not know whether the reporter downplayed the ruling, though he is certainly the first address to ask. Someone at least downplayed either providing a downplayed version to the reporter or editing it in such a fashion afterwards.

  • http://www.draknet.com/proteus Judy Harrow

    Point of personal privilege. I did not blast Terry’s demand. I support it. I would strenuously object to anybody trying to require any religious body to conduct any sort of ceremony that violated their theology in any way.

    However, there are religious groups that are willing to hold consecration ceremonies for people in homosexual relationships. And there is also such a thing as secular, civil marriage.

    Failure to grant full legal recognition to gay marriages conducted by religious groups that are willing to bless such relationships — or by civil authorities — amounts to the imposition of the beliefs of some religious groups on other people who do not share those beliefs. That’s the First Amendment issue here.

  • Dave2

    As an atheist who is not at all sympathetic to conservative views on homosexuality, I must say that the “Myths and Facts” section excerpted above is disgracefully biased and myopic.

    Judy, I doubt there’s a First Amendment issue here. Congress surely isn’t obligated to grant legal recognition to every religious ceremony—when a Scientologist becomes OT VI, this is no concern of the government. And moreover, the mere fact that a law is supported and enacted for exclusively religious reasons by no means renders the law unconstitutional: laws banning alcohol sales on Sunday, for example, are not unconstitutional (they’re idiotic, but not unconstitutional).

  • str1977

    Failure to grant full legal recognition to gay marriages conducted by religious groups that are willing to bless such relationships — or by civil authorities — “amounts to the imposition of the beliefs of some religious groups on other people who do not share those beliefs. That’s the First Amendment issue here.

    And “full legal recognition” (in subversion of existing laws and institutions) “amounts to the imposition of the beliefs of some religious groups on other people who do not share those beliefs” as well. That is the actual First Amendment issue here, in relation to the actual case decided by a court.

    You sure did blast Terry’s call by claiming that anything less than forcing religious bodies to hold homosexual “marriages” can only fine and proper.


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