Press Release: First Amendment Center
Jenny Atkinson, 615-727-1325
First Amendment framework suggested to help educators, parents, students find ‘common ground’ on this controversial issue
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The first consensus guidelines created to help educators, students and parents develop local policies and practices to address issues involving sexual orientation in public schools were announced today by the First Amendment Center.
"Americans are deeply divided over homosexuality in our society," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. "But if school officials and community members use the ground rules of the First Amendment, they can reach agreement on how public schools can guard the rights of all students in a safe learning environment."
The nonpartisan guidelines call on school officials to be “fair, honest brokers of a dialogue that involves all stakeholders and seeks the common good.” The recommended strategies include:
- Create a “common ground” task force, with representatives with a wide range of community views, to advise school officials on issues such as safety in school, student expression and curricula;
- Agree on protecting everyone’s First Amendment rights and reach a shared understanding of current law;
- Avoid “us v. them” political arguments, and permit all sides in the debate to be heard;
- Provide educational opportunities for administrators, teachers, parents and students about basic First Amendment principles of rights, responsibilities and respect.
Primary drafters of the guidelines were Haynes and Wayne Jacobsen of BridgeBuilders, an organization that helps schools and communities find common ground on religious issues. Representatives from the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) also served on the drafting committee and endorsed the process recommended in the guide.
CEAI is a professional association of Christian educators serving in public and private schools. GLSEN is a national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students.
"So often our national discourse focuses on those issues which divide us. These guidelines highlight, however, that respect is our common American value," noted GLSEN founder and Executive Director Kevin Jennings. "I want to personally commend our colleagues from CEAI, the First Amendment Center, and so many educators, religious leaders and influencers who are joining together in this great effort to ensure America's schools are safe and effective environments for each and every student."
“Our endorsement of the guidelines for Public Schools and Sexual Orientation is in no way a wandering away from, change or compromise of our long established support of traditional family values and Biblical standards,” said Finn Laursen, executive director, Christian Educators. “We have all seen a growing hostility in the schooling community centered on this issue. It is evident that emotions escalate when not all stakeholders are included from the onset and the issues surrounding homosexuality come in ‘under the radar.’
“The strength of these guidelines is the focus to include all stakeholders impacted by this issue, which clearly includes the Faith Community. We need to be sensitive to listen and show respect for individuals with opinions on all sides of this issue even if we don't agree with them. In this type of environment, those expressing views based on religious convictions or personal experience can do so without violating their own personal convictions,” Laursen said.
Two national educational leadership groups, the American Association of School Administrators and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) have also endorsed the guidelines.
The new guidelines are the latest in a series of common-ground statements developed and published by the First Amendment Center and endorsed by a broad range of religious and educational groups. In 2000, three of these consensus guides on religious liberty in public schools were sent by the U.S. Department of Education to every public school in the United States.
The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, the right to assemble and petition the government. The First Amendment Center is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.
The center has offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va. Its affiliation with Vanderbilt University is through the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies.
Related: Public Schools and Sexual Orientation (PDF)