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Jewish World Review June 22, 2001 / 1 Tamuz, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LET'S see if we can sort out the field of battle. The Boy Scouts remain besieged by the Forces of Tolerance--that special, ultra-liberal kind of "tolerance" that comes to a skidding, rubber-burning halt at the Scout-den door. Dedicated to the eradication of the 91-year-old private organization's principles of rectitude that bar homosexuals from joining up, the Scouts' opponents include not just homosexual activists, or maybe People for the American Way, but also large swaths of what has to be called the establishment. These include school districts in at least a dozen cities, from New York to Minneapolis, charities such as United Way, labor unions, teacher unions, the PTA and Steven Spielberg, all of which have withdrawn support and privileges to starve out the Scouts until, presumably, they are a social menace (read: "morally straight") no more.

Hoping to cushion the impact of all this broad-mindedness, Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, sent in a rider-to-the-rescue last week, an amendment that passed, 51-49, to deny federal funds to schools that bar Scouts access to facilities enjoyed by other groups. Not to be outdone, Democrats answered with a measure from Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, that passed, 52-47, to ensure that no schools deny access to any student group, including the Scouts, "based on that group's favorable or unfavorable position concerning sexual orientation."

What could be more, as they say, "inclusive"? But look how the battle has shifted: from trying to save the Scouts, who, after all, want as little to do with "sexual orientation" as possible, to ensuring that schools sanction any group with any "sexual orientation."

This sort of pressure is testing schools across the nation, often to unpredictable effect. In one of the more bizarre cases to date, a Southern California school district last week decided to ban all 29 of its service and social clubs rather than recognize a Christian club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes--no doubt another one of those morally straight scourges that help left-wing activists raise money. With this decision, the district ended a lawsuit filed by a former student to gain club status for the Christian group. Under the new rules, the Christian group will be treated on the same basis as other non-academic and non-athletic clubs, gaining after-school access to facilities, possibly for a fee.

Is this good? The Christian group, enjoying a new, if lesser, equality, seems to think so, although the other clubs are still smarting over their new non-status. "If people aren't happy with [it], they can go to the Christian group and thank them for it," school board President Dore Gilbert rather churlishly told the Orange County Register. Then he said something much more interesting. "I don't want a crack in the door that then becomes a swinging gate that allows any group official club status. ... If you start allowing certain groups on campus, they might not be as brotherly as a Christian club."

How intriguing: Could Mr. Gilbert believe that unfettered, unfiltered inclusiveness is not always a good thing? That there could be something worse for a student body than a--gasp--religious jock's club? Maybe a total ban was the only way to maintain any control over club activity. As Judy Selz, an official with the American Association of School Administrators put it to the Los Angeles Times, "Local school districts can no longer be as sensitive to local community preferences as they used to be. It's either everything or nothing."

Everything or nothing. It may be a measure of the sloppiness of the so-called culture wars that Ms. Selz was actually bemoaning a 6-3 Supreme Court decision holding that a New York state school may not prevent an evangelical children's club from meeting after school on the premises--the kind of "everything" that probably appeals to those among us who still have a soft spot for freedom of religion, not to mention freedom of speech. "This case opens it all up," education law expert Rob DeKoven told the newspaper. "This case says schools cannot engage in any viewpoint discrimination." Really? Ominously, the New York state district that was the defendant in the case is considering the California option of shutting down all after-school groups, including Girl Scouts and the 4-H Club, rather than allowing the children's Christian club to meet on campus.

Maybe once upon a time "viewpoint discrimination" in the schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion. That was back when a "morally straight" Scout color guard drew cheers, not jeers (as one did at last summer's Democratic National Convention), avowed homosexuals didn't try to be scout leaders, and Bible class wasn't such a big deal. Many bemoan those days, but they're gone. Today, it looks like the best thing to hope for is everything.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Diana West