No ghost in this sex-ed story!

Let’s face it. There are hot-button topics in the American public square that, in even in the context of our increasingly post-Christian culture, are going to raise religion flags.

Abortion is one of them. While it is possible to hold a completely faith-free debate about that subject, that is rarely going to happen. There are, after all, religious liberals with strong views on that topic as well religious conservatives. Truly secular voices often frame their arguments in favor of abortion rights in terms of keeping religious doctrine out of public life (even though many, but certainly not all, opponents of abortion are willing to debate the issue in faith-free terms).

It’s hard to talk about life-and-death issues — such as hospice care and end-of-life directives — without raises questions that, for most Americans, would involve religious doctrines or, at the very least, seeking the advice of a pastor, priest, rabbi or imam.

The list goes on an on. Anyone want to try to hold a forum on how public schools teach American history or biology or sex education without people showing up and voicing strong opinions — liberal or conservative — about their religious beliefs or the lack thereof?

Well, apparently just such a debate is unfolding in the state of Montana, if you trust the following story from the Associated Press (and, as we all know, the AP provides the news that most Americans hear and read). Here’s the top of this typical report, under the headline, “Helena school board gets earful on sex ed proposal.”

HELENA, Mont. – A proposed sex education program that teaches fifth-graders the different ways people have intercourse and first-graders about gay love has infuriated parents and forced the school board to take a closer look at the issue.

Helena school trustees were swamped … at a hearing that left many of the hundreds of parents in attendance standing outside a packed board room. They urged the school board in this city nestled in the Rocky Mountains to take the sex education program back to the drawing board. The proposed 62-page document covers a broad health and nutrition education program and took two years to draft. But it is the small portion dealing with sexual education that has drawn the ire of many in the community who feel it is being pushed forward despite its obvious controversial nature.

Parents appeared most worried about pieces of the plan that teaches first-graders about same-gender relationships, fifth-graders that sexual intercourse includes “vaginal, oral, or anal penetration,” and high school students about erotic art.

The supporters of the program, it seems, argued in terms of science. And the arguments of the opponents? Apparently, no one there argued in terms of morality or religion. Apparently, no one argued that the materials were too one-sided. In fact, readers don’t find out anything about how the plan deals with values-based issues linked to sexuality, which is strange to say the least.

Thus, opponents are talking about lawsuits and the impeachment of board members. Now, are we to believe that religious groups are playing no role whatsoever in those talks?

One member of the board states the obvious:

Trustee Terry Beaver said he thinks much in the policy is favorable, but believes the public backlash means they should carve out the sexuality elements and deal with them separately.

“It appears to be a strong divisive issue. I think when the community is that strongly divided we need to take a further look at it,” Beaver said.

Beaver said his issue with the plan revolves on whether certain components are being taught too young. “I don’t know that anything needs to be taken out,” he said. “Some of it might be age inappropriate. We are going to have to consider how we teach it and when we teach it.”

Now, if the community is divided, what is the nature of the division? What are its key characteristics? For example, what national groups are getting involved in this case and how are they framing their arguments? Any signs of religion or those who are worried about the public role of religion.

I don’t know. Click here and see.

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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.


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