Is It Religious Totalitarianism?

A federal judge has expressed outrage over a Michigan public high school's decision to exclude Christian clergy from a discussion of homosexuality and religion, saying the school's actions "smack of government and religious totalitarianism."

At a court two-hour hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen was very indignant at Ann Arbor High School officials who only allowed pro-gay clergy to participate in the discussion during the school’s Diversity Week program in March 2002. Only the view Gay/Straight Alliance wanted to project was expressed during the discussion.

"Isn't this cultural hegemony, where you're only going to present one view to the exclusion of others?" Rosen asked, demanding to know why school officials were afraid of letting students consider diverse viewpoints.

"Don't you think that smacks of government and religious totalitarianism. Isn't that what this government was founded to get away from?" Rosen asked. "Isn't that how we got to book burning in Nazi Germany back in the 1930s?"

"We're not for the equivalent of Nazi book burning," said Detroit lawyer Seth Lloyd who represents the high school. He said the school was only interested in exerting some control over the theme and content of the diversity week program.

Hansen, then a senior, filed a lawsuit against the school last year saying teachers and school officials violated her rights by refusing her request to allow a clergyman to participate Diversity Week. She said school officials rejected the request because they wanted to present only one view: that religion and homosexual behavior are compatible.

School officials said they rejected Hansen’s request because she failed to attend the required planning sessions or provide the name of a clergy member to represent her point of view. They said she was allowed to participate in other panel discussions, permitted to address the student assembly and that all three of the questions she submitted were asked of the clergy members.

During Monday's court hearing, Lloyd said officials wanted to present a positive message to offset the views of the school's Pioneers for Christ club, of which Hansen was a member. Lloyd said the discussion was to reduce violence and harassment inflicted on gay students. He emphasized the Pioneers for Christ was offered an opportunity to join the panel but declined.

Attorney Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center who represents Hansen, said he was pleased with the hearing. The attorney says it is increasingly common for such discrimination to take place in school programs like Pioneer's Diversity Week forum. He said, "we have schools that want to label Christian students' views toward homosexuality as hate speech. And by labeling it as hate speech, they exclude it."

But Muise feels the judge's questioning of the defendants and his remarks to them in this case would bring a favorable outcome. "The judge here correctly showed that the ones that are intolerant are the school officials who won't allow this Christian message, which is, in fact, a message of love and not a message of hate, " he says.

The attorney says the court has made clear that this is a case of viewpoint discrimination, and what it will establish is that "the Christian view is worthy of being expressed in public, and in fact the Constitution requires it."

A ruling in the case is expected within the next five days.