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ACLU Cites ‘Free Speech’ in Defense of Sexually Explicit Content in Schools

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While adult college students are demanding "safe spaces" and sensitivity training to escape being "triggered" by unintentional racist comments and arbitrarily offensive Halloween costumes, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is fighting a bill recently passed by the Virginia General Assembly that would require the state’s department of education to notify parents of any explicit sexual content in public school materials.

House Bill No. 516 states:

A. The Board shall establish a policy to require each public elementary or secondary school to:

1. Notify the parent of any student whose teacher reasonably expects to provide instructional material that includes sexually explicit content, as defined by the Board. Such notification shall (i) directly identify the specific instructional material and sexually explicit content contained in such material and (ii) set forth the parent's options pursuant to subdivisions 2 and 3;

2. Permit the parent of any student to review instructional material that includes sexually explicit content upon request; and

3. Provide, as an alternative to instructional material and related academic activities that include sexually explicit content, nonexplicit instructional material and related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests.

But apparently, the ACLU thinks schools have a right to shove sexually explicit content in the impressionable faces of young public school students without parental knowledge or consent, and have resorted to defending that belief with the First Amendment in a letter to the Democratic Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe.

In their letter urging McAuliffe to veto the bill, the ACLU claims, “This bill – an unusual and inappropriate intervention into the routine operations of public schools…constitutes a content-based regulation of speech that should be rejected as a threat to the First Amendment.”

“Passing judgments, applying labels and red-flagging educational materials that might prompt uncomfortable but insightful discussions is a small-minded activity that does not belong in public schools, state Board of Education policy or Virginia law,” the ACLU added, claiming the bill will “result in unnecessarily vague, subjective standards for what ‘sexually explicit content’ means.”

The letter also alleges that requiring parents be notified of sexual content in their children’s school curriculum “divests the school board of its function and places that authority outside of it, and thus, under the Virginia Constitution…the bill is unconstitutional.”

The debate over limiting or expanding parental involvement regarding sexual content in school materials isn’t new. According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the topic recently arose in Virginia after a mother in Fairfax County became concerned about a book assigned to her son, a high school senior. From the report:

It all started with Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County woman who said she was horrified to discover that one of her sons, a high school senior, had been assigned to read the 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved.”

The seminal work of fiction, by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, is about a former slave after the Civil War, and it contains scenes of bestiality and gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder.

WaPo added that more than half of all Virginia school districts already require parental notification before a students are assigned to read potentially graphic material.

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