Not surprisingly, my recent columns on the forced withdrawal of gay speakers in Mike Marino's Corona del Mar High School psychology class generated a fair amount of mail. But quite surprisingly, the preponderance was in favor of the position I took in support of Marino.
Normally the people who agree seldom write, but in this case, they did--and almost all of their letters had the plaintive note of people who are speaking out as individuals and finding it tough to fight the concerted, organized action of others who are trying, as one parent said, "to fix things that aren't broken."
Wrote Richard Simon of Newport Beach, who has a daughter in Marino's class: "This issue goes much deeper and is more intertwined than just homosexuals speaking in a classroom. It is separation of church and state; censorship; academic professionalism; administrative judgment; politics, and egos.
"But surely most basic is the question of freedom--freedom of access to sound information for those students who hunger to learn of the world around them, who, along with their parents, feel so secure in their beliefs and values that they, undaunted, welcome all knowledge."
Wrote Patricia Tyler of Brea: "Our oldest daughter participated in a pilot program in sex education in Anaheim that we thought was great. It opened up dialogue as she came home from school with questions (and judgments) that she shared with us. We had every opportunity to insert ethical and religious views.
"Then suddenly the entire program was under attack. We who liked it didn't take the attacks seriously, as they came from people who didn't have children in the program.
"They ran the program out of the district. . . . Legally and morally, we are supposed to separate church and state. Yet, the conservative Christian element in our communities has consistently been shown to be effective in overcoming the will of the majority--a majority who are predominantly Christian, ethical and rational."
Wrote Scottia Evans of Newport Beach, also a mother of a current Marino student: "Many of the people who spoke (against Marino at the Feb. 28 school board meeting) were from distant corners of the county. . . . I couldn't help but wonder at the high motivation of a young mother who would leave her family on a weeknight and drive 45 minutes or an hour to speak to a board of education in a district that isn't her own.
". . . My indignation rose when I thought about those mothers of 2- and 4-year-old children telling me what my 17-year-old son should know and be taught. He is going to college in 6 months and will be on his own to face whatever people and situations come into his life. . . . We want Mike Marino to teach our children about these matters, and further, we want him to do it this semester while our son is in his class."
Several letters referred to the organized nature of those complaining about Marino's class and one described attending a meeting "orchestrated by a group of parents whose highly publicized goal is to transform the Newport-Mesa School District curriculum in their image. It is their freedom to lobby toward that end. However, it became absolutely clear upon the gathering of their handout material that this was no grass-roots movement but part of a nationwide, fundamentalist effort to foist their views exclusively in the classroom."
Another writer described the meeting as reflecting a "national religious movement . . . in which the leaders referred to an inch-thick 'how-to' manual during the course of their talk. The issue of the homosexual speakers is simply a foot in the door. The real agenda, I suspect, includes anything that isn't in line with their fundamentalist view of the world."
On the other side, there was strong objection to this conspiracy view. "It is not only 'fundamentalists' who share these beliefs," wrote Susan Dyer-Dupuis of Orange. "This word (is used) to lump into one ill-respected group all Christian people who have a word to say about the moral decay of the past 2 decades; those decades, by the way, during which Mr. Marino has taught his class unprotested. . . . Christians don't 'need' to believe anything about homosexuals, but what they do believe is that homosexuality is a choice, and one with serious consequences."
This theme was replayed repeatedly by those letter writers who objected to Marino's class. Wrote Andrea Purdy, also of Orange: "I feel that you are not accurately informed of the real harm that advocating homosexuality and presenting it as an acceptable way of life can do to young people of an impressionable age. Furthermore, there are many more people who feel the same way I do than either you are aware of or care to admit to.