THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 339, October 2, 2005

 Tenth Anniversary Edition, Part 1 

The Culture War's Battle of Lexington
by Wendy McElroy
wendy@ifeminists.net

Special to TLE

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.



Copyright © 2005 Wendy McElroy.
Wendy McElroy Home Page
Wendy McElroy 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" [paperback and hardcover from Amazon.com] (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).


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