Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mad Dad Hyperbole Fest

You had to be there, at the Mad Dad hearing in U.S. District Court Wednesday. Samuel Beckett or Eugène Ionesco could have scripted the worst of it.

For example, consider two statements spoken loudly and without laughing:
  1. It’s a form of propaganda specifically intended to wipe out their way of life.
  2. (This strikes at) the very, very, very core of their existence.
These call to mind the victims in shackles being beaten until they renounce their holy books and swear allegiance to a demonic being. Yet that actually describes a benign, even trivial, burden in legal terms placed on the plaintiffs.

Different Rules

The theater and irrationality of court can astonish. Civil proceedings are often stunning in the willing suspension of incredulity. Judges are particularly skilled at preventing themselves from guffawing and pounding the bench at attorneys' sometimes absurd postulates.

The hyperbolist and the afternoon's hands-down drama queen was plaintiff's lead attorney, Robert Sinsheimer. What he was describing in legalese was two Lexington families claiming an unbearable onus loaded on them and their children by the school system. Teachers had used three kiddy books in classes. Each in its own way showed that a family might have two dads or two moms. None advocated homosexuality or depicted body parts or sexuality in any way. The closest any got was with a picture book King & King, which ended in an implied, pending cartoon kiss (even this, hidden behind a Valentine's-style heart).

The judge as well as the rest of us may well ask what it is about the plaintiffs that they find state-regulated sex education here.

Rather that ridicule those absurd assertions, Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf did mention that same-sex marriage was the law of the land here as well as that the children in question would be in classes and perhaps socialize with peers with two moms or two dads.

The call to Wolf from the defendants in the school system was to dismiss both federal and state complaints. In ordinary argument, the plaintiffs would be laughed out of the room. Yet, Wolf will think about their written and oral arguments. He dearly loves being da man on constitutional issues.

Control Freaks

Back on planet Earth, the control-driven demands of the parents are risible to the point of tears. They want:
  • Any mention of same-sex marriage or homosexuality to fall under the state's opt-0ut law for sex education.
  • Their children removed from any class where even those words or ideas arise in any form, even spontaneously from other children (as in "my mommies").
  • The right to come into any of their kids' classes any time to sit and monitor it.
  • Notice in advance of any possibility that same-sex marriage might be mentioned.
The defendants' attorney, John J. Davis, noted, without squealing or making ludicrous exaggerations, that this effort to control the entire school system was unworkable. Specifically, assuming a child wanted to mention her same-sex parents, the teacher would have to stop all activity, get supervision for the class, remove the children whose parents fear reality, have another classroom with supervision to which to remove them, return and try to pick up the discussion. Then the process would reverse afterward. In addition, assuming other parents objected to this or that idea, this could multiply.

The parents do not want to be inconvenienced, find and pay for a private school or home school their kids, but are more than willing to inconvenience the rest of the school system and students.

The absurdity of the plaintiffs' case also extends into their citations for support. For example, they claim that their case is indistinguishable from Wisconsin v. Yoder. In that case, Amish parents were convicted for not sending their children to public school, even though it violated their religion and established practices. The state intended to force their kids into public schools.

Of course, the opposite -- and the clearest resolution -- holds here. If the plaintiffs object so strongly to their children being exposed to the reality of their state's marriage laws, they should probably home school them. I rather doubt that they can find any private school that will shield their kids from all ideas not in a narrow doctrine.

As an aside, as a parent of three, I am sad for these children. Apparently their parents intend to prevent critical thinking, the epitome of the human mind's capability. Lackaday.

Personal Responsibility

Perhaps the real solution is even closer at hand. Judge Wolf, in fact, alluded to such a few times. The parents, he implied, are not at all prohibited from educating their children about their own beliefs and morality. In fact, that is the norm. If the school lesson notes that same-sex marriage exists, they can and should tell their kids why they do not accept that and what they believe.

They can be damned sure that the classroom is not going to be the only place their kids are going to hear things their very odd parents do not like. It is amusing to think of them rushing around in public parks or restaurants to shush other kids who may mention the obvious to their sheltered ignorami.

To round out the day's drama, Sinsheimer figuratively drew, colored and cut out for display his clients as minority victims. (Still, Wolf kept a straight face.)

The judge suggested that a resolution here might be for the offended parents to organize and use democracy. Rally the other parents and elect a school board more to their liking.

Woe Are They!

Sinsheimer was ready and more. He defined this as a "civil-rights" issue and said, "My clients are very much minorities in their community." By that he didn't seem to mean they were reality deprived control freaks. Rather, he defined them as Judeo-Christians, whatever that might mean.

I suspect a substantial portion of Lexington's voters consider themselves both Christian and moral. Many likely have never engaged in homosexual activity nor will ever do so. A small minority are married same-sex couples.

Instead, Sinsheimer alternately called the state approved diversity curriculum "secular propaganda," "indoctrination," and "brain-washing." Of course, this implies that the parents' teachings are so lame and feeble that they could not counteract such ideas as being accepting of others, even homosexuals.

He was wise enough never to get into his clients' religious options. I think of my own friends growing up. In addition to public school, many went to Catholic training, Hebrew school, Bible school and such. We all got the discussions and teaching by example at home.

Even Judge Wolf told one of his famous homey stories. He said when he was in school, after social studies classes, his father would sometimes say that he was clearly getting a liberal brainwashing in the Newton schools. His clear implication is that this is part of growing up -- for both kids and parents. The children come home after exposure to facts and ideas that the parents may not know or like. There may be discussion or even argument. Eventually, everyone sorts it out. Life goes on.

No More Drama

In our world, where virtually any bimbo can become a celebrity and anyone can sue another for nearly anything, the Mad Dad case in federal court should not surprise us. Ordinary humans in a non-courtroom environment might find this simple:
  • Parents cannot dictate curriculum in public schools.
  • If these parents have strong feelings about some ideas, they can teach their kids what they believe or remove the kids from schools that mention reality in the community.
  • Being exposed to ideas is part of life and should be part of education.
  • The plaintiffs need to stop whining, show some wit, and not compare themselves to people actually persecuted for religion. Shame on them.
However, that is not what we have here. All manner of exaggeration is permissible in court arguments. The exception is one that Judge Wolf drew clearly when he interrupted Sinsheimer, who was reading one of his florid written arguments. Wolf stopped him cold with, "We do not allow baseless assertions."

Waiting for Wolf

I am no better at calling court decisions than sporting events. However, it seems plain that Wolf will rule for the defendants on the federal complaint. He seems to love to roll around in and pick up the smell of constitutional issues. So, it is as likely that he will let this go to trial rather than dismiss it outright.

The state issues, particularly whether the three books in question or any mention that same-sex marriage exists and is legal fall under the parental-notification law for sexuality education seem to bore Wolf. It is difficult tot believe that if Wolf tells them to duke it out in state court and not bother him, that Sinsheimer could find any judge or even jury that would agree that there was any violation at all here.

For the federal complaint portion, the plaintiffs claim that their First Amendment rights to the practice of religion were violated as well as their and their children's privacy rights. Nothing in the complaint alleges that the schools in any way prevented the parents from teaching their kids anything. The parents can wave dead chickens overhead to produce rain or tell their kids that homosexual partners are on a fast track to hell. If either is in their religious doctrine, that's their business and rights. No actionable foul occurred.

Judge Wolf is likely to produce a clever, insightful and highly readable decision, whether it comes in the next couple of weeks in a dismissal or months later after a trial.

Sooner would be better. As Mary J. Blige sings in Family Affair, "...we're celebrating ";no more drama" in our lives...I told you "leave your situations at the door"...

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't see why you find this funny. My religion dictates that I must be able to control everyone else's lives. Every day that all of you infidels feel free to roam around freely without my permission, my religious freedom is being violated. That's no joke.

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