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FIRST-PERSON: Another appalling ruling

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The judge who believes “one nation under God” should not be in the Pledge of Allegiance now says that parents should not be able to set the agenda for their children’s sex education.

On Nov. 2, Justice Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered an opinion in which he wrote among other things, “There is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children.”

The case, Fields v. Palmdale School District, revolves around a psychological assessment questionnaire administered to first, third and fifth graders at Mesquite Elementary in Palmdale, Calif. The questionnaire was ostensibly administered to determine the effects of early childhood trauma on children. Prior to administering the questionnaire, a parental consent letter was sent to parents. While the consent letter acknowledged that some of the questions may make the children feel uncomfortable, what parents were not told is that their first, third and fifth graders would be asked sexually explicit questions. The questions included references to “touching my private parts too much,” “thinking about having sex,” “thinking about touching other people’s private parts,” “thinking about sex when I don’t want to.” The parents in this case only learned the full nature of the questionnaire from the children themselves.

One is left to wonder just exactly how the average first or third grader who has not even experienced puberty was supposed to answer such questions. While counselors and therapists may indeed have an appropriate need to probe into the traumatic experiences of wounded children in order to help them find healing, the substance of the questions in this survey and the manner in which it was implemented constitutes a form of trauma in and of itself.

Justice Reinhardt dismisses parental concerns as prudish and antiquated. As a self-identified liberal, Reinhardt has also supported physician-assisted suicide and homosexual activism. He may be most well known for arguing forcefully that references to God should be eliminated from the Pledge of Allegiance. His court is also the most frequently overturned appeals court in the U.S., and he one of the most overturned judges. In this case, Reinhardt says parents have no constitutional right “to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so.”

Several problems emerge from Reinhardt’s opinion. First of all, he encourages an adversarial relationship between public schools and parents. Whether or not Reinhardt’s opinion is overturned, a wise public school administration cultivates an atmosphere of cooperation with parents while affirming the best in a community’s core values. Reinhardt’s approach is totalitarian and produces distrust, and ultimately, fewer students in public schools. Beyond this, Reinhardt says education is not “merely about teaching the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.” He goes on to stress that education serves “higher civic and social” functions. Yet, what is a higher function than teaching children the basic skills needed in order for them to learn? Reinhardt’s approach, in fact, distracts from the core function of a public school and substitutes the fluff of liberal ideology in place of real learning. A more sober approach emphasizes the acquisition of core learning skills as a primary goal while celebrating our common values such as hard work, honesty and patriotism.

Reinhardt’s opinion does serve to show the absolute inconsistency inherent in theories of jurisprudence based on radical notions of autonomy. Reinhardt celebrates Roe v. Wade (abortion on demand) and Lawrence v. Texas (“gay rights”). He affirms the autonomy of people to abort a child or practice sodomy. Yet, he denies the autonomy of parents to determine the time and nature of sexual messages to their children. This demonstrates that leftist appeals to “autonomy” are not really about affirming the ability of people to choose for themselves. Instead, “autonomy” is really about eliminating all social taboos. To achieve the goal of a society free from moral constraints, Reinhardt argues that small children must be forced to answer sexually explicit questions. Forcing children to endure sexually explicit questionnaires without parental consent is the antithesis of autonomy! Reinhardt’s opinion gives warrant to the belief that leftist elites only want autonomy for themselves. Others must be compelled to accept their worldview, by force of law if necessary.

Finally, Reinhardt’s opinion shows no sensitivity to children. One would think that a federal judge would want to protect young children from sexually suggestive messages. Yet, Reinhardt is adamant that the timing of such messages is solely the discretion of the school and parents cannot prevent schools from doing so. In this way he is not only inconsistent in his application of law, he is indifferent to the children protected by the Constitution.
Alan Branch is vice president for student development at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

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  • Alan Branch