Secret Censors

In one California school district, a high-powered, nationally funded special-interest group is doing its best to ban educational materials it doesn't like. Who are these would-be censors? A group of far-right reactionaries? No, they're members of People for the American Way—a group that preens itself on being a noble guardian of civil liberties and a defender against censorship in the schools. In fact, every year People for the American Way—known as PAW—issues a report on what it labels "censorship" in the public schools. PAW titles the report "Attacks on the Freedom to Learn," but the report itself is little more than an attack on the freedom of citizens to bring up their own children. For example, this year's hit list includes Kansas City parents who objected to their children reading a book called Annie on My Mind, a story that presents a positive picture of a teenage lesbian love affair. Other bad guys on the PAW list are Arizona parents, who protested a book for young children titled Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It included a tale of a man haunted by a rotting corpse whose flesh drops from her face in chunks. All in all, PAW managed to dig up 375 cases of so-called censorship, most of them simply examples of parents wanting a voice in the education of their own children. But missing from the list is the dirty little secret of PAW's own attempts at censorship. In California's Riverside County, PAW is currently suing the Hemet school district to force the school to drop a sex education program called "Sex Respect," a values-based course that teaches premarital chastity as the best way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Last year, PAW opposed voluntary, student-led prayers in public schools, even though the Supreme Court has upheld such prayers as constitutional. PAW sent a letter to school superintendents across the country in an attempt to bully them into crushing students' religious rights. PAW also supported guidelines proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlawing so-called "religious harassment"—guidelines that could have made it illegal for public school teachers even to keep a Bible on their desks. With a record like this, it's nothing short of astonishing that PAW manages to maintain its credentials as a protector of civil liberties. Its actions prove that the group's major goal is to suppress the civil liberties of religious believers—whether parents, students, or teachers. So I have a suggestion: The next time you hear about PAW's annual censorship list, why not turn the tables and tell people about PAW's own censorship attempts. The truth is that there's a double standard here: When liberal groups like PAW try to change the education system, the liberal media tolerates and even praises them. But when ordinary parents seek input into their own children's education, the media picks up the cry of censorship. You and I need to set the record straight about who the real censors are.    


Chuck Colson


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