The Culture War's Battle of Lexington

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On
Sept. 21, David Parker was scheduled to go on trial in Lexington,
Mass., for an incident that resulted from him disputing the ‘right’
of a local public school to introduce his then-5-year-old son to
the issue of homosexuality.

The
Parkers wanted to control the timing and content of that discussion.

His
trial has been delayed.

The
Parker conflict, the ferocity of community reaction, and the trial’s
delay constitute a microcosm within the culture war raging between
conservatives, liberals and everyone in between. Even kindergarten
children are not spared.

Before
exploring how the second Battle of Lexington typifies the larger
culture war, it is useful to sketch the specific conflict. (For
the record, I believe Parker is overwhelmingly in the right.)

On
Jan. 17, Parker’s son brought home a Diversity
Bookbag
from kindergarten. It included “Who’s
In a Family?”
which depicts same-sex parents alongside others.

By
law, Massachusetts’s schools must notify parents before discussing
sexuality with children. The unnotified Parker immediately emailed
the principal of Estabrook Elementary to say he didn’t wish his
son to be taught that same-sex families are “a morally equal alternative
to other family constructs.”

Parker
espouses tolerance: the right of others to make peaceful choices.
But he rejects “diversity” defined by the demand that he validate
a particular choice through approval or acceptance.

On
April 27, Parker was arrested for criminal trespass when he refused
to leave school property without an assurance of parental notification
of lessons with sexual content in the future. He is now barred from
school property, which precludes him from attending events open
to other parents or being a voice on school committees.

The
second Battle of Lexington illustrates several common characteristics
of the culture war.

They
include:

The
conflict is fundamental and admits no compromise. Parker believes
that parents, not government, have the right to teach moral and
sexual values to their children. Estabrook assumes a duty to teach
the values of “diversity.” The adults involved have core beliefs
that conflict, and there is only one child.

Short
of a Solomon’s Knife solution, which slices a baby in half, no compromise
is possible. If the law enforces compromise, neither side will be
satisfied and the fight for total victory will probably continue.

Another
characteristic: agendas are attached to the dispute, drawing attention
from the basic issue. Tammy Mosher from Concerned
Women for America
stated, “What’s getting lost…is parental
rights and parental notification as it pertains to education.”

The
basic conflict is not over same-sex marriage, to which anti-Parker
activists have shifted the ground.

Indeed,
some advocates of “diversity” claim that Parker’s demand for parental
rights are nothing more than an expression of hatred toward gays.
The accusation illustrates another characteristic of the culture
war: arguments are mixed with vicious personal attacks and, often,
overwhelmed by them. Each side ascribes the worst possible motives
to the other.

Neither
acknowledges that the “enemy” might be a decent human being who
simply disagrees. Demonizing the enemy is another reason why compromise
is not possible. It becomes a deal with the devil.

It
also stokes the emotions, making physical violence more likely.

On
Sept. 6, Parker supporters rallied on the historic Lexington Battle
Green. According to reports, pro-gay activists gathered in a counter
demonstration. The media then arrived. The presence of media often
acts as a catalyst because activists know it favors flash over substance,
and tensions on the green became inflamed. Ultimately, the police
were called to the scene.

Finally,
culture warriors are often unwilling to work out difficulties privately,
preferring to involve police and the courts almost from the word
“go.”

There
is no way to accurately judge who’s right in the culture war without
examining the facts. Both sides can make valid points, and who’s
right often shifts with the tactics they employ.

Nevertheless,
when I need to make a snap judgement – one I discard upon deeper
examination – then I follow a few crude guidelines.

My
preliminary bias is:

  • Against
    the first one to call the police (if no violence occurred);
  • Against
    anyone whose income depends on the outcome;
  • Against
    someone who attaches a broader agenda or shifts the ground of
    discussion;
  • For anyone
    who argues rather than insults;
  • For those
    calling for a private resolution.

My
preliminary bias can easily dissolve in the presence of a compelling
fact to the contrary. Upon examining the Parker matter, my initial
impression stood.

The
Estabrook authorities, for whom “diversity” is part of a paycheck,
called the police on Parker. School supporters portray Parker as
an anti-gay bigot and attach a same-sex agenda to his basic demand
for parental rights, thus shifting the ground of debate.

Meanwhile,
Parker argues without insults. He was the one arrested at the school,
and the one in danger of physical violence at the demonstration.
Moreover, Parker’s lawyer is calling for a private resolution; that
is, the school should drop the restraining order, which has become
a pivotal point. Estabrook refuses
to negotiate.

A
last word on the culture war. Most elected officials will
hide
from the controversy.

The
most plausible explanation for the delay in Parker’s trial comes
from Agape Press.

“The
district attorney…is running for State Attorney General” and he
wants to hammer out a plea bargain to make the controversy go away.

The
resolution is unlikely. The Superintendent of Schools claims he’s
had no time to decide about the restraining order even though the
issue has dragged on for months.

For
his part, Parker seems willing to go to the Supreme Court. This
returns to the culture war’s first characteristic: no compromise.

September
30, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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