If anti-gay crusaders in Lexington don't like the books the local school system uses, they're free to run for School Committee, but they shouldn't expect any help from the courts.
In a 44-page ruling released today (hat tip to Terry Klein at Decisionism, who got the scoop), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the claims of the Parker and Wirthlin families that the Eastbrook School violated their First Amendment rights to believe and to teach their children that gays and gay marriage are abhorrent.
The court ruled that the First Amendment does not shield children from potentially objectionable material, but rather from efforts by government officials to coerce them into believing or saying things contrary to the parents' beliefs. And that, the court ruled, simply did not happen in Lexington; the two sets of parents are still free to teach their children whatever they want:
[W]e cannot see how Jacob's free exercise right was burdened at all: two books were made available to him, but he was never required to read them or have them read to him. Further, these books do not endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, or even address these topics explicitly, but merely describe how other children might come from families that look different from one's own. There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations.
Joey has a more significant claim, both because he was required to sit through a classroom reading of King and King and because that book affirmatively endorses homosexuality and gay marriage. It is a fair inference that the reading of King and King was precisely intended to influence the listening children toward tolerance of gay marriage. That was the point of why that book was chosen and used. Even assuming there is a continuum along which an intent to influence could become an attempt to indoctrinate, however, this case is firmly on the influence-toward-tolerance end. There is no evidence of systemic indoctrination. There is no allegation that Joey was asked to affirm gay marriage. ... Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them. ...
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