Indian River school board member, pastor, and would-be censor Shaun Fink and responded to the National Collation Against Censorship’s recently issued a letter about his demand for a censored health curriculum that would exclude discussions of homosexuality, HIV, STIs, and contraception in the most ironic way possible: He claims NCAC is trying to censor him.
The letter to Superintendent Susan Bunting, which CBLDF signed alongside NCAC, the ACLU of Delaware, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, ABFFE, ALA-OIF, PEN America, and SCBWI, outlines the dangers of caving to Fink’s censorious demands:
To deny students such information because of anyone’s religious or other personal belief-based objections would raise serious First Amendment concerns and, in turn, compromise our public education system and potentially expose students to unnecessary and significant health risks.
During a committee meeting on Tuesday, December 2, Bunting presented the letter to Fink, who calmly responded that he thought it “ironic” that the NCAC, in fighting to prevent censorship of the curriculum based on personal, moral, or religious beliefs, was in turn “attempting to censor people of faith.” As Rachel Pacella of DelmarvaNow reports, Fink sees the letter as nothing more than a “scare letter” being used to intimidate the school district.
Moreover, in a reference to the cited court case Parker v. Hurley, 514 F.3d87, 106 (1st Cir 2008), Fink claims that the letter from the NCAC is essentially protecting the First Amendment rights of one group at the expense of the freedom of speech of the Christian community. “If a student is a Christian…and they want to advocate for an ethical or moral point of view which is based on the biblical truth, they’re not even allowed to participate in the discussion, is what the National Coalition Against Censorship says.”
The citation that he pulls this argument from is that “[p]ublic schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them.” The ruling is in regard to how public schools should, or should not, regulate instruction which impacts the whole of their academic community; not the censorship of particular students or members of those communities which would exclude them from participating in community discussions.
This being said, Fink’s attempt to point the finger in the other direction and call censorship on those with opposing viewpoints demonstrates exactly the severity with which this controversy has escalated. NCAC is by no means attempting to censor the religious community. Rather, in advocating for the non-censorship of the curriculum, they are attempting to keep the public school system free and open for all groups and to prevent violation of the Establishment Clause, which also protects the right of people to not be subject to the religious beliefs of others. Most importantly, though, they are fighting to ensure that students are provided essential information that will ultimately enable them to make informed decisions and protect their well-being.
As Rachel Pacella later reported, “though Fink was critical about the way the material was presented, he ultimately did not object to its inclusion in lessons, despite prior comments. He said that in order to leave it out, they would need to change state law, which requires comprehensive health education.”
On December 18, at 4:00 p.m., the Health Curriculum Subcommittee will reconvene to discuss and make final recommendations to the larger curriculum committee, and the results will then be reported to the Board of Education for their final vote.
In the meantime, it is essential that a clear focus is kept on the matter at hand — this is not a censorship blame-game, but a call to protect students’ First Amendment rights and their access to information that potentially effects their physical well-being. NCAC, CBLDF, and other organizations are fighting both to maintain the rights of the students of Indian River, Delaware, and as well as curb the larger attempts at censorship and regulation that directly impacts young adults.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!