BOSTON (Reuters) - As gay rights supporters and foes gathered outside, a U.S. federal court on Wednesday took up the question of whether a Massachusetts town and its school district infringed on parents’ rights when a teacher read young students a book with a gay theme.
Two Lexington, Massachusetts families last year filed the suit asserting that the reading of the book “King & King” and the handing out to elementary school students of other children’s books that discussed homosexuality without first notifying parents was a violation of their religious rights.
“What they fear is their children are being brainwashed,” Robert Sinsheimer, who represented the families, told the court in Boston. “It’s a form of propaganda specifically intended to wipe out their way of life.”
The plaintiffs, David and Tonia Parker and Rob and Robin Wirthlin, who describe themselves as coming from the Judeo-Christian tradition, also charged in their suit that reading out the book to a class of largely 7-year-old students violated a 1996 state law requiring parents to be notified of sex-education lessons.
The book “King & King” tells the story of a crown prince who rejects a string of princesses before falling in love with another prince. The two marry, sealing their union with a kiss.
“Massachusetts, as well as its cities, towns and school districts, have a legitimate interest in teaching diversity and tolerance,” said John Davis, who represented Lexington, a suburb about 12 miles west of Boston.
HIGHLY CHARGED ISSUE
School officials said the book was read to teach students about diversity. Massachusetts is the only U.S. state where gay marriage is legal, though the subject remains highly charged.
In January, Massachusetts lawmakers approved a measure that could give voters a chance next year to overturn the historic court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
A crowd of about two dozen protesters, representing each side of the issue, braved freezing conditions to picket outside the waterfront courthouse.
“The schools are exposing youngsters to something that is the law of the community they life in. The parents seem to know about it and can teach the children that they believe it is wrong,” said Judge Mark Wolf, who will decide whether to dismiss the suit.
“Almost all moral education is indoctrination,” Wolf said. “It’s the reason we have public schools. We’re preparing people for citizenship.” He pointed out that the parents had the option of enrolling their children in private schools, or of lobbying the school board to have the curriculum changed.
Sinsheimer, representing the parents, said that opposition to the teaching is a minority viewpoint in their town and that they would face an uphill battle in any lobbying effort.
“There’s always a problem with people in the majority deciding how much of a burden this is on the minority,” Wolf said.
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