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Dismissed lawsuit increases attention on parental rights


David Parker of Lexington, Mass., second from left, speaks during a news conference in Boston, April 27, 2006 following filing a federal lawsuit claiming school administrators violated their civil rights and broke state law when they distributed and read two storybooks that depict gay relationships to their children without prior notification. His wife Tonia, right, Joseph Wirthlin, second from left, and his wife Robin, left, look on. AP File Photo/Chitose Suzuki

LEXINGTON -- National attention has increased on a case involving parental rights being trumped by public school policies since a federal judge Feb. 23 dismissed a lawsuit brought by two Lexington couples.

The case highlights how gay activists have made inroads within some Massachusetts public schools, even before the state Supreme Judicial Court paved the way in 2004 for “same-sex marriage” licenses.

David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Worthlin filed a constitutional lawsuit in 2006 against Lexington Public School officials. The Christian parents objected that their kindergarten and second-grade children were exposed without the parents’ prior knowledge to books designed to mainstream same-sex unions.

They argued that because the children were so young, this amounted to indoctrination; it deprived the parents of their right to present this sensitive issue within the framework of their moral beliefs at an age-appropriate time.

Their request for prior notice to opt their children out of future discussions was denied by school officials, who later garnered support in their defense from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), national gay advocacy groups, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

First District Court Judge Mark Wolf dismissed the parents’ suit, which has already cost them $250,000 in legal fees. Wolf ruled the school was promoting “diversity” and not teaching sex education. He further said that if parents disagreed with the curriculum, they could remove their children from public school or elect a different school board.

Public reaction was swift.

A Boston Globe editorial applauded the ruling: “The decision Wolf issued yesterday is based on earlier court findings that parents do not have a constitutional right to dictate what their children are taught in the public schools.”

Brian Camenker of the Waltham-based parents’ rights group Mass Resistance called Wolf’s ruling “every parent’s nightmare.”

“We’ve received a lot of support from many people of different faiths,” Tonia Parker said in a phone interview. A Baptist church in Texas adopted both the Parkers and Worthlins and the schoolchildren of Massachusetts in prayer.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, in his online blog March 2, encouraged the couples to pursue their appeal, which was filed Feb. 28. He wrote: “The disturbing part of this affair is that it underscores how, by redefining marriage in Massachusetts, people’s religious rights are going to be challenged by the state. I think that people were very naïve saying that we can change the definition of marriage and it will not have any repercussions and will not affect anyone else’s marriage or society as a whole.”

Asked to comment, Lexington Town Counsel Kevin Batt said, “The school system has never meant any disrespect for religious views of parents, but does need to create an atmosphere of tolerance of diversity for children from all kinds of families.”

David Parker said he has “never been motivated to bring down anyone’s dignity.” However, he said, “It’s a fundamental and sacred right of parents to be the primary directors of their children’s moral education.” He thinks that point has been eroded incrementally. “It’s been a slow process where the boundary has crept over the years.”

Seven years ago Lexington brought in LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) “diversity trainers” to show teachers how to integrate gay-friendly topics, according to a June 2006 article, “Show and Tell,” in Bay Windows, a Boston gay advocacy newspaper.

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