by Jody Brown and Chad Groening
(AgapePress) – A U.S. court of appeals has ruled that a school district's anti-harassment policy violates the free-speech rights of Christian students to speak out against homosexuality. The policy effectively prohibited Christian students from sharing the gospel with homosexuals and expressing to them that the lifestyle is sinful.
David Warren Saxe is a Pennsylvania State University professor, a member of the state's Board of Education, and guardian of two children in the State College Area School District. In 1999 he sued the State College Area School District over the district's anti-harassment policy, which threatened discipline from warning to expulsion for “unwelcome” comments regarding perceived sexual orientation. The case was argued last May to the U.S. Court of Appeals the Third Circuit (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands).
On February 14 the three-judge panel of that court decided unanimously that the policy was “overly broad,” and stated that the policy banned speech that is not considered harassment under federal or state law. The court said the policy wrongly sought to ban “unwelcome verbal, written or physical conduct which [merely] offends, denigrates or belittles an individual.”
Saxe was represented in the lawsuit by the American Family Association's Center for Law & Policy. Bryan J. Brown, the Law Center attorney who argued the case, stated that the district's policy failed to differentiate between free speech about controversial issues that some may find offensive and individualized targeted harassment that disrupts a student's opportunity to learn. According to Brown, the court's ruling yesterday invalidating the policy sets an important precedent and could expose hundreds of school districts to similar challenges.
“There are a lot of them like State College, and a lot of them are going to fall,” Brown told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Stephen M. Crampton, Chief Counsel for the Center for Law & Policy, calls the court's judgment an “important decision [that] will, in fact, result in the striking down of hate speech codes the nation over.”
Brown also said the ruling was the first by a federal appeals court addressing the free-speech implications of school harassment policies. The decision, he says, strikes a “tremendous blow against the political correctness movement.”
“Big Bang” Shoots Down Creation's Inclusion
In another education-related controversy, the Kansas State Board of Education yesterday reversed an earlier decision and approved new science standards that emphasize evolution.
In a 7-3 vote, the board approved new standards that include references to the big-bang theory and the age of the Earth both of which were eliminated in the previous version. The board's decision 18 months ago, which triggered international criticism, changed the definition of science to the “human activity of seeking logical explanations” and allowed local school districts to decide on their own whether to teach evolution.
A Christian member of the Kansas State Board of Education says he is disappointed in the outcome of yesterday's vote. Dr. Steve Abrams was one of the board members who voted against the change, which puts evolution at the forefront when teaching the origin of man. He also was part of the previous board which in August 1999 voted to de-emphasize evolution and allow discussion of other viewpoints.
“What we did last time [in August 1999] was to open and encourage discussion of scientific evidence that might be contra-indicated of neo-Darwinian theory, and basically that has been closed off,” Abrams says. “They dropped the statement about the censor, so they are saying that they don't have a problem about censoring scientific evidence and all the examples they gave, obviously, were very supportive of neo-Darwinian theory.”
Abrams says the media painted a distorted view that this was a debate between the religious right and science. He says it was actually a debate between the religious right and the religious left.
Before the meeting ended yesterday, Abrams and the two other dissenting votes John Bacon and Harold Voth released a statement containing their objections to the new standards. The statement said, “Those who think the naturalistic explanation is wrong are not permitted to express their criticism, even when those criticisms are based on scientific evidence as found in articles in some of the leading scientific journals.”
Critics countered that statement, saying the new standards are based on scientific theories accepted by the majority of scientists around the world. They say the state's science standards must be based on the knowledge of experts, not laypeople. Abrams calls that line of thinking “deceptive,” and says trusting so-called “experts” is nothing more than “passing the buck.”
(This update courtesy of Agape Press.)