American Family Association
From 1954, when public schools were ordered to desegregate, tiny, hare-brained private, religious schools sprung up to dot the southern landscape. Their sole raison d'etre was to shield white children from having to learn with black ones. These schools singularly failed and justly died off because social institutions do not succeed with bigotry as their basis.
Now the Protestant Christian Right's political-educational move is to re-create public schools in the image of their hate. Their targets, though, are no longer racial minorities. They now target gender minorities.
Perhaps the most vicious incarnation of Protestant Christian Right hate spewed continuously at our LGBT friends, relativees, colleagues, and neighbors is its determination to crush public school anti-bullying programs. They do this on the at-best ludicrous idea that, as these programs teach respect for and decency toward all kids, schools just may make inroads against the bullying which targets 'out' (and perceived-'closeted') LGBT children. We know that these programs can make a dent in the suicide rates and absenteeism that all bullying may cause. Yet that's not a goal of the American Family Association.
Their concern is that making general gains against bullying may make life easier for LGBT kids, may reinforce in them the belief that they, much as straight teens, deserve to live unmolested and with increasing self-respect. The American Family Association believes this even while acknowledging that anti-bullying curricula may help straight kids, too.
Last year I reported here on a gay and straight student-led, teacher-supported, quiet but steady and ultimately successful rejection at the school board level of a suburban Minneapolis fanatical parents' religious group which had, for a time, blocked initiatives to curb bullying for fear that any anti-bullying program would work soley to the benefit of LGBT students. The parents group alleged this despite no evidence that the program in any way raised up LGBT issues as central. It's a program encompassing all who are bullies' targets and which focuses, too, on helping the tormenters themselves.
Justice won in Minneapolis.
Now, and nationally, the AFA is trying to stamp out an anti-bullying program called Mix It Up At Lunch in which students are encouraged to integrate cafeterias where, as we know, kids tend to self-segregate whether by race, socioeconomically, by religion or, sometimes, by gender and by gender-orientation. Mix It Up does not require or even encourage students to select particular kinds of new, temporary lunch partners; its participating schools ask kids to sit, once in a while, with someone new. It has been used well, for example, in schools with many special needs kids.
I can tell you that in the late 1980s when I was Dean at a Vermont public middle-high school, I often joined at lunch mentally- and physically-challenged students who were always at the same three tables. This hardly caused a rush toward thoroughgoing acceptance, let alone social integration. And yet, over time, other students joined in and we did see a decrease in taunting. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Mix It Up's creator, believes mixing it up every so often just may soften some social barriers over time and, perhaps, tend toward less bullying. I saw some evidence of this in Vermont.
The Southern Poverty Law Center started Mix It Up in 2001; it has seen, nationwide, some useful results. The AFA, ironically, found it objectionable only recently, when the SPLC added the AFA to its watch-list of hate-groups -- because of its relentless and longstanding attacks on legal equality for LGBT cirizens. The SPLC watch-list includes neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers, and violent black separatist groups such as the New Black Panthers.
The AFA has urged members (and others) to keep kids home on Mix It Up days even as it lobbies hard in school districts across the country to ditch all anti-bullying work.
Public schools must not be sullied by hatred shielded byreligion, hatred promoted by religious and/or public institutions. Public schools must not answer to any religion. In 1963, the ruling in a case I'm proud to say my dad helped bring to the Court as general counsel to the Philadelphia American Civil Liberties Union (Schempp v. Abington School Board), that, with several related rulings, ended state-imposed daily public school King James Version bible readings in the United States. The plaintiffs in Schempp were Unitarian Christians, supported by many mainstream Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and other religious groups.
From that moment the Protestant Christian Right has tried to 'take back' the schools.
Parents who dislike gay/straight social integration and increasing mutual acceptance have three choices.
1. Content themselves to the extent that they are able with thoroughgoing equality in the public schools, schools with initiatives that foster acceptance of all children as they try to curb bullying, or
2. Pay private religious school tuitions (now comparatively far higher than they were in the Civil Rights Era), hoping against feverish hope to find among current crop of religious schools a few which may be as ethically feeble as those which arose in knee-jerk response to the Court's courageous integration ruling in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, or
3. Open as many new, private, morally and academically corrupt and narrowly sectarian schools as they like, on their dime.
The truth, of course, is that time's on the side of option-one, however slowly. These people will never in large numbers go for options two or three: they don't want to pay for their bigotry. They want us to pay for it. That's why they're desperate and arrogant enough to remake tax-funded schools in the image of their increasingly small and distorted, aberrant vision within an otherwise robust and largely ethically sound and vibrant mainstream American Protestantism.
Time's always on the side of Justice.