Friday, February 23, 2007

Mad Dad Loses a Huge One

Winger control freaks took a big hit today. The judge in the federal Mad Dad case told the four plaintiff parents to take a hike.

This one was so easy to predict that we can't even be smug. If you scan the past couple of weeks of this blog, you'll see that we were torn over whether U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf would let this go to trial or dismiss it. We never seriously entertained the idea that the two couples could prevail on such a theocratic suit.

The gist of the suit is that the four claimed that their First and Fourth Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution were violated by the Lexington schools' diversity program. They alleged that mentioning the reality of same-sex marriage and the possibility of homosexual couples would deprive them of their freedom to practice their religion in teaching their kids.

Wolf howled, "No!" His whole ruling is here. At the same site, there are views very opposed to mine. You can also find the ruling at the Mass ACLU site, along with the we-told-you-so press release.

This ruling may be no huge surprise, perhaps even not to David Parker and his uxorial unit. Theirs, indeed, was a quixotic charge. They gambled that stringing together key amendments with such concepts as parental duty and traditional values would outweigh tomes of law and case law. Honk. Thanks for playing.

The suit also included the whipped cream and cherry of a state law requiring parental notification of sex education. Wolf dismissed the federal claims and also the state claims, without prejudice. That means that the foursome can continue to take action at a state level to try to argue that showing pictures of the reality that a family might have two moms -- legal here -- is somehow sex education.

Any bookie would love to take that bet.

In the ruling, Wolf expanded on the questions he asked during oral arguments earlier this month. He telegraphed his decision by suggesting that 1) same-sex marriage is the law of the land here and that the foursome's kids would go to class with children with two dads or two moms, 2) the foursome was free and expected to provide their moral and religious instruction in the other 18 hours and weekends when the kids were not in school, and 3) parents who had real problems with normal reality had the obligation and perhaps duty to home school their kids or send them to places that exhibited their peculiar religious tics.

Here I agree with the Parkers that these are fundamental issues. However, it bewilders me that they would think that they would expect to be able to move their theology into the school system to dictate curricula, to determine when and under what conditions their children could be exposed to concepts and laws that affect all children in the school. That would be theocracy and that would be unacceptable under that First Amendment.

Perhaps the best outcome of this suit was that the plaintiffs' claims were so outre that they forced Wolf to respond in wording that other federal and state judges will use to quash such frivolous actions. For example, Wolf stated:
In summary, the court must dismiss plaintiffs' federal claims because this case is not distinguishable in any material respect from Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, 68 F.3d 525 (1st Cir. 1995). In Brown, the First Circuit held that the constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children and that teachings which contradict a parent's religious beliefs do not violate their First Amendment right to exercise their religion. [page 3]
A key allegation in this suit was that even mentioning something that conflicted with the parents' beliefs somehow interfered with their religious practice. Again, as with his questions in the oral phase, Wolf noted that the parents could preach whatever they wanted, but not mandate what public school could present.

Wolf expanded on that with:
In essence, under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy. Diversity is a hallmark of our nation. It is increasingly evident that our diversity includes differences in sexual orientation. Our nation's history includes a fundamental commitment to promoting mutual respect among citizens in our diverse nation that is manifest in the First Amendment's prohibitions on establishing an official religion and restricting the free exercise of religious beliefs on which plaintiffs base some of their federal claims. [page 4]
The right for parents to raise their kids does not extend to controlling the curriculum of public schools. On the other hand, Wolf presented the foursome with what they say is an hard choice. In addition to other schooling, Wolf suggested that they could campaign among their peers and neighbors to elect a school board with similar view to their own.

Rather than depicting them as a set of oddballs mumbling amongst themselves in a corner, their lead attorney, Robert Sinsheimer said in the oral phase that they considered themselves "a minority" in the community. He did not elaborate about whether their extreme religious and political views created this status. However, he implied that they held little hope of prevailing in such elections.

In the ruling, Wolf seemed to affirm one argument after another from lead defense attorney John J. Davis. He interpreted the constitutional and case law as Davis did. Sinsheimer's efforts to twist the citations to prove the opposite of what others think they do had some literary merit, but apparently little legal worth to Wolf.

We are reminded of the Alice in Wonderland snippet:
Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.
Alice: The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is: which is to be master - that's all.
Even to the repeated claim that the foursome's kids were special because they were kindergarten or primary student didn't cut it with Wolf. He ruled, "Neither the Supreme Court nor the First Circuit have suggested that parents have constitutional rights concerning public elementary school students that are different or greater than their rights concerning older students." [page 23]

That may be harsh reality to the fantasy prone.

Key to the defendants' arguments was that the commonwealth mandated that the schools teach diversity. Wolf came down heavily in favor of this fundamental point. In several sections, he noted that the schools had both right and duty to follow such direction. He also cited case law as having already decided this with such comments as:
In view of the foregoing, Brown's holding that parents do not have a fundamental liberty interest that permits them to prescribe the curriculum for their children means that the defendants' use of the books at issue and related teaching is constitutionally permissible if there is a rational basis for the instruction. [page 27]
Furthermore, Wolf was strong in his assertion about education that went beyond defense arguments that a major purpose of eduction was to prepare kids for citizenship. He cited Thomas Jefferson there and added "One of the most fundamental of those values is mutual respect. Indeed, our nation's devotion to such respect is manifest in the First Amendment itself, which prohibits the majority from establishing an official religion or prohibiting the exercise of any sincere religious belief, no matter how abhorrent it may be to many or most people." [page 29]

This will surely appear in related cases going forward. Those who would deny respect to homosexuals or any minority group they disfavor may disdain Wolf's decision in such matters.

More narrowly, Wolf dismantled and tromped on the plaintiff claims of hybrid rights violation and of conspiracy. Here again, he concurred with assertions of defense attorney Davis.

From here, it appears as though the plaintiffs from the beginning alleged a persecution that never occurred, violation of religious rights that did not happen, interference with their private practices that they could not begin to prove, and most of all, a parental privilege to control the progress of the external world that does not align with reality or reason.

Follow-Up Items: Saturday's Boston Globe quotes the foursome's attorney as saying they would appeal and soldier on at the state level. Unless the only aim would be increasing winger cred, that should be a waste. Wolf's decision doesn't leave wiggle room. Instead, it tears apart the plaintiffs' arguments and allegations, down to the central issue about whether parents can specify curricula and classroom procedures to suit their wishes and beliefs.

Over at MassResistanceWatch, Bud helps us keep our focus by reminding us of what's important here. "My sympathies go out to the children who were caught up in all this mess and the Lexington same sex parents who had to witness this nasty and bigoted attack on their families in their own town."

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1 comment:

Ryan said...

methinks they got the smack down. sanity on a friday is always appreciated.