NJ lawmaker proposes religious exemptions for school lessons
As New Jersey public school classrooms roll out lessons that include achievements of LGBTQ and disabled community members, Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, has introduced a measure that would give families a chance to opt out of school material they consider "harmful" based on religious or moral objections.
The Protecting Parental Involvement in Curriculum Act was first introduced Feb. 3. Auth revised it and re-introduced Thursday what he called a "Choice and Tolerance" bill, which added a school voucher element.
Objection to material or activity in NJ public school could be based on belief regarding "sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, conscience, ethics, morality, or religion," according to the legislation.
If a school can’t accommodate a family in the opt out process, Auth said, the measure proposes giving them 75% of what was being taxed to support their child in the school system, as a voucher to send the child to a school of their choice.
When asked whether the opt-out measure could extend beyond the issue of LGBTQ inclusive curriculum, to perhaps a science lesson on evolution being a concern based on religious belief, Auth said he’s “not going to try to guess what every individual parent throughout the state of New Jersey has as an issue — I can’t do that it would be impossible."
"I’ve just had parents come to me and express their concerns about different educational programs in the school systems that they’re not happy with.”
Garden State Equality spokesman Jon Oliveira said the bill is so broad that it reaches far beyond LGBTQ inclusive curriculum.
“We could have folks who might be white supremacists pulling their kids out of Holocaust curriculum or even black history and that’s just absurd,” Oliveira said.
Oliveira also called the voucher revision a "poison pill" that would make it much less likely for the bill to ever get out of committee, and said the proposal was a "divisive distraction, meant to take away from the incredible progress and momentum behind the work that we’re doing to develop LGBTQ inclusive curriculum."
The state's LGBTQ inclusive curriculum is not a stand-alone class and not about delving into people's private lives, Oliveira said. It is meant to teach about the social, political and economic contributions of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.
Oliveira said it aims to incorporate lessons in a similar way that classrooms cover the contributions of women, people of color and immigrants.
The opt-out measure proposed by Auth is strongly supported by the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey. According to a Facebook post by the Christian faith-based organization, “more than 7,000 New Jerseyans have signed the petition to protect NJ students from being forced to endure radical LGBT sexual indoctrination in the classroom."
The alliance also said in a separate Facebook post that “The Protecting Parental Involvement In Curriculum Act will protect families from having their religious beliefs violated on the topic of human sexuality.”
The measure is now waiting to be referred to an Assembly committee.
Auth said it’s going to take a "groundswell" of support from parents committed to having the choice of opting their children out of certain lessons, and mentioned the recent flurry of protesters at the statehouse who fought a measure that would have gotten rid of "religious" based exemptions from vaccinations for students.
"They’re people that deserve representation,” Auth said.
"I have to applaud parents who successfully raise their children in New Jersey. It’s a very difficult state to survive in economically and there’s a lot of pitfalls along the way. And I want to make sure that parents that are having a little difficult time aren’t forced to put their children in a school where they feel that they’re not getting a quality education according to their particular beliefs," Auth said.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said the proposed legislation to permit parents to exempt children from lessons that they consider to be “harmful” is rooted in a lack of understanding about the benefits of inclusive curriculum, of which she was a sponsor.
“I believe that its purpose was to ensure that the curriculum represents the diversity of the students in the classroom, this means that our children must be provided with age-appropriate lessons on the contributions and experiences of diverse voices throughout history – a diversity of races, religions, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations and gender expressions,” Vainieri Huttle said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5.
Vainieri Huttle said studies show that schools with inclusive curriculum have significantly less bullying around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, this law will take a significant step forward in improving school climate for everyone.
"Paying tribute to the careers and achievements of members of the disabled and LGBTQ communities is not harmful, it is fundamental to changing our culture around intolerance and bigotry," Vainieri Huttle said.
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