Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The whole first-grade-field-trip-to-gay-wedding deal

I'm sure you've heard of the latest hype about "First Graders Taken to San Fransciso City Hall for Gay Wedding." A pro-Prop. 8 mailer I received yesterday says:

Just recently in San Francisco, first grade students were taken on a school-sponsored field trip to a gay wedding. The school's principal called it 'a teachable moment.' Gay marriage WILL be taught in California public schools if we don't pass Proposition 8.

A public school took a first grade class to see a gay wedding to indoctrinate children on the moral equivalence between gay and straight marriages! We have to vote for Prop. 8 or else this practice will become widespread!

Breathe, breathe. All right, now let's consider some facts that will help us better understand what was going on here:

1. The wedding the children attended was for their school teacher, Erin Carder, who was marrying her partner, Kerri McCoy.

2. The field trip was not arranged by the teacher or the school principal. It was arranged by one of the parents, with the school's permission.

3. The trip was meant to be a surprise for Ms. Carder. The students took a Muni bus then walked a block to City Hall. They surprised their teacher by blowing bubbles and throwing rose petals as she and her partner emerged from City Hall, then they mobbed Ms. Carder with hugs.

4. It appears that some of the parents attended the wedding with their children. Take a look at these photos and decide for yourself.

5. As with all school field trips, parents have a right to opt their children out. Two families did.

6. The school is Creative Arts Charter School. I think of charter schools as sort of a hybrid between a public and private school. Like a public school they are government funded, but like a private school they are allowed a certain amount of freedom to chart their own educational course. Creative Arts Charter School uses innovative teaching methods, relies heavily on parental involvement (parents are required to volunteer 40 hours a year at the school) and refers to experience-based learning as "a teachable moment" (a phrase that is mocked by the pro-Prop. 8 mailer). They are a small, community-based, K-8 school with only eleven classroom teachers and less than 200 students. In other words, they are far from your typical public school.

So . . . will voting for Prop. 8 prevent charter school parents from arranging surprise field trips to the weddings of well-loved first grade teachers? The difference is maybe a parent will arrange for the school kids to surprise their teacher at her civil-union ceremony instead of her wedding ceremony. Is it worth amending the state constitution to deny an entire segment of the California population their marriage rights to achieve this difference? Just asking.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rebuttal to pro-Prop. 8 campaign claims . . . by a Mormon

Here I've been sinking the few hours of the day I have left in my schedule into investigating the claims of the pro-Proposition 8 campaign, and someone has already done it for me!

Morris Thurston is an active member of the Mormon church, a graduate of BYU and Harvard Law School, and a recently retired senior partner of a global law firm. He is every bit as interested in the preservation of religious freedom as many of us are. But he is also very concerned that the falsehoods and misrepresentations of the pro-Prop.8 campaign will tarnish the reputation of his church, which has contributed heavily to this campaign.

Check out his sensible, readable essay:

"A Commentary on the Document 'Six Consequences . . . if Proposition 8 Fails.'"

If only more religious conservatives were equally concerned about integrity. Should Proposition 8 pass this coming November 4, just remember how many Christians blindly supported the lies, misrepresentations and shameless scare tactics it took to make it happen. Then please, try to make an effort to temper your righteous indignation against gays and lesbians when your attempt to share with them the message of Christ's grace, love and forgiveness is met with hostile rejection.

Our Lord Jesus calls us to adorn his gospel with lives of humility, integrity and love for the truth, yet we are willing to sell that sacred calling for a mess of pottage to satisfy our earthly craving for political and social supremacy. We are willing to win the earthly battle and yet lose the war for people's souls. How did we manage to get so far afield?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Will gay marriage threaten the tax exempt status of churches?

To recap, I received a pro-Prop. 8 mailer containing all sorts of scary talk about how the legalization of gay marriage will strip Christians of their religious freedoms across the board. I've been looking into the cases listed in the mailer one by one to determine whether the threat to our religious freedom is real. Here's the next one on the list:

Same-sex marriage threatens tax exempt status of churches. The Methodist Church's Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in New Jersey was stripped of its tax-exempt status for part of its property after it refused, for religious reasons, to allow a lesbian couple to hold a "civil-union" ceremony at a pavilion on the camp's property.

Wow. A lesbian couple demanded to be married in a Methodist church, the church refused, and for that it was stripped of its tax exempt rights! How frightening that churches will now be forced to accommodate gay and lesbian couples who demand, upon threat of lawsuit, to be married in our sanctuaries!

Before we have a collective heart attack, let's take a look at the pavilion in question:

This is an open-air pavillion on a beach boardwalk that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The locals understand that it is controlled by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) which is governed by a Methodist board of trustees. But the locals also understand this property to be open to public use. While it is used for worship services, Bible studies, gospel choir performances, it has also been open to the public for weddings and other events and generally provides refuge for pedestrians and beach-goers looking for a place to rest.

So you can see why one of the major considerations in the State of New Jersey's decision in this case was whether this pavillion was for public or private use based on its history. "Evaluating these matters under the appropriate section of the LAD [Law Against Discrimination]. . . will require a determination as to whether Respondent's pavillion rental is a public accommodation subject to the LAD's anti-discrimination provisions, or is exempt as a program which is distinctly private." Notice how the State is ready to recognize exemptions from LAD provisions in cases where the property is private. The problem is, OGCMA couldn't demonstrate that the use of these facilities was distinctly private.

Even weirder was that the State had trouble determining whether OGCMA is even a religious organization. While acknowledging that the state Supreme Court had at one time confirmed the OGCMA's religious status in a case some thirty years ago, "evidence of subsequent changes, such as those relating to the Respondent's relationship with and funding by government entities, may demonstrate that Respondent is no longer a religious organization."

I looked into this "relationship" a bit. First of all, OGCMA doesn't just own the pavillion, but much of Ocean Grove's choicest beach property including, apparently, 1000 feet of the ocean. Furthermore, within the last two decades OGCMA has lobbied U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (D-Monmouth) for state and federal funds to have their property repaired. This includes $250,000 in state funding to replace the roof of the Great Auditorium and federal funds to repair the Ocean Grove boardwalk after a 1992 storm. While all this government money was rolling in, they also successfully secured tax exempt status for themselves as if they were just like any other private religious organization. So which are they? A public or a private organization? Rep. Frank Pallone stated, "They've taken state, federal and local funds by representing that they are open to the public."

Sure, the pro-Prop. 8 mailer correctly reports that OGCMA was "stripped of its tax-exempt status" as a result of this civil union lawsuit. But that's because the OGCMA was getting away with enjoying the benefits of government funding and tax-exempt status at the same time. All the State did was decide, in view of this lawsuit, which side of the line the OGCMA should properly fall.

Sounds fair to me. But instead of giving you the facts, the pro-Prop. 8 mailer would have you believe that this lawsuit unjustly stripped a church organization of its rightful tax-exempt status in favor of the homosexual agenda. That just isn't so.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frantic pro-Prop. 8 mailers

Twenty-five million dollars have been spent to boost an enormous campaign in favor of Prop. 8 here in California. I just got one of their mailers yesterday. The rhetoric comes off as truly frightening to all church-going, child-raising, conservative-value-cherishing Californians. Activist judges are out of control. Children will be indoctrinated in the second grade. Churches will be stripped of their rights. It goes on and on.

Except I keep seeing stuff on the mailer that contradicts known facts. For instance, you open it up to this headline:

In May of this year, four activist judges on the Supreme Court in San Francisco ignored four million voters and imposed same-sex marriage on California. Their ruling means it is no longer about 'tolerance.'

Hmm. One problem is they fail to mention that three out of four of these "activist judges" were appointed by Republican governors. These "activist judges" are:

Chief Justice Ronald M. George--Gov. Wilson (Republican), 1991
Assoc. Justice Joyce L. Kennard--Gov. Deukmejian (Republican), 1989
Assoc. Justice Carlos R. Moreno--Gov. Davis (Democrat), 2001
Assoc. Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar--Gov. Wilson (Republican), 1994

They also fail to mention that before this ruling, the California state legislature had already voted twice in favor of full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. The legislature took the lead on this one, not "judicial activism." And since California state law had already granted gay and lesbian domestic partners all the legal benefits and responsibilities of married couples, the court's decision was simply about whether there was any constitutional reason to deny the label of "marriage" to such couples. Three out of the six conservative-appointed judges on the CA Supreme Court apparently thought there wasn't.

Then there's this claim on the flyer:

Same-sex marriage threatens the education of our children. After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, public schools began to teach school children about gay marriage. After second graders were read a story in which a prince married another prince, some parents complained. A court ruled that they had NO RIGHT to withdraw their children from classes that taught gay marriage. And since California law already provides children as young as kindergarten be taught about marriage, gay marriage will be taught in our schools too!

Sounds scary, right? So scary that you forget that Prop. 8 has nothing to do with educational policy in public schools. At all. It's about whether gay civil unions, which are already recognized by the state of California as equivalent to marriage relationships in just about every legal aspect except in name, should be called "marriages."

But what about down the road? What if inappropriate sex education gets taught to our children in public schools? I don't know about Massachusetts law, but the California Education Code says parents have every right to excuse their children from public school sex education. Read it for yourself:

Article 5. Education Code sections 51937, 51938—
Notice and Parental Excuse
Many of the parent notification requirements from the prior sex education and HIV/AIDS instruction codes have been retained and moved to this section. Education Code Section 51938 retains a parent's right to excuse their child from all or part of comprehensive sexual health education or HIV/AIDS instruction and any assessments related to that education. Parents are to be notified:

• about instruction that is planned for the coming year in comprehensive sexual health education, HIV/AIDS prevention education, and research on pupil health behaviors and risks. This notification is to be at the beginning of the school year or at the time of enrollment for a new student.
• that written and audiovisual materials are available for inspection
• if instruction will be taught by school district personnel or outside consultants
• of their right to request a copy of this chapter
• that they may request in writing that their child not receive comprehensive sexual health education or HIV/AIDS instruction

But what if the California Education Code changes to strip parents of these rights? Well, obviously that's the time to start screaming and hollering about "our rights" as parents and sending out panicky mailers about the "threat to the education of our children." The thing not to do is to send out mailers implying that parents will have "NO RIGHT" to withdraw their children from sex education classes, when in fact they currently do have that right in very explicit terms.

There's more misleading stuff on the mailer I'd like to talk about, but I've got to pick up my oldest kid from public school now. More on this later.