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Ky. students can't skip anti-gay harassment training

By The Associated Press
02.20.06

ASHLAND, Ky. — Students have no religious or free-speech right to opt-out of school training aimed at stopping anti-gay harassment in Boyd County schools, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning said "there is simply no basis for an opt-out" because the training does not endorse any viewpoint or require students to disavow their religious beliefs. Three students had skipped the mandatory sessions at Boyd County schools.

Bunning wrote in an opinion issued Feb. 17 that mandatory training "to address the issue of harassment at school, including harassment based upon actual or perceived sexual orientation, is rationally related to a legitimate educational goal, namely to maintain a safe environment."

The anti-gay harassment sessions were part of a settlement in 2004 of a three-year dispute between the school district and a now-defunct gay-rights group that wanted recognition as an extracurricular group.

To settle the case, the school district agreed to hold mandatory anti-gay harassment sessions for school administrators and students.

A student and two sets of parents sued the Boyd County Board of Education over that requirement, which penalized students with an unexcused absence if they did not attend the training.

The student, Timothy Allen Morrison II, his parents, Timothy and Mary Morrison, and two other parents, Brian Nolen and Debora Jones, were represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based legal foundation that takes on religious-rights cases.

The group claims the training violates Morrison's right to follow his religious beliefs because it prohibits him from telling gays that those who engage in destructive lifestyles, like homosexuality, are wrong.

The American Civil Liberties Union joined the case on behalf of the school district in an effort to keep the training classes in place.

"Just telling students not to pick on others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity doesn't force them to change their beliefs, and the judge agreed with us about that," said Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney with the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.


Update
6th Circuit revives challenge to mandatory anti-harassment training
Divided three-judge panel rules Timothy Morrison can pursue claim that Kentucky school district's policy 'chilled' his ability to profess his Christian beliefs and opposition to homosexuality. 10.26.07

Related

Kentucky gay-straight group can meet at high school

Federal judge orders Boyd County school district to treat new Gay-Straight Alliance no differently than Bible club. 04.21.03

Gay themes spark lawsuit against Mass. school district
Two couples claim their rights have been undermined by kids receiving, hearing certain storybooks without parental notification. 04.29.06

Calif. judge to weigh meaning of 'that's so gay'
Parents sue school after daughter was disciplined for uttering phrase that she says meant 'that's so dumb'; others contend it's an anti-gay slur. 03.02.07

Debating homosexuality in schools: Censorship doesn’t work
By Charles C. Haynes Trying to stifle speech for or against homosexuality rides on false hope that harmony, tolerance will prevail if no one is allowed to say anything that might offend anyone. 08.24.03

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