Rolling Stone Magazine’s War on Anoka-Hennepin School District
Rolling Stone Magazine’s War on Anoka-Hennepin School District
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   02.06.12

For the past couple of months, I have been working with a dedicated, courageous, and tireless community group from the Minneapolis suburbs: the Parents Action League (PAL). They live in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, which has been facing a relentless campaign by homosexual activists and their “progressive” allies to use their public schools to normalize homosexuality.

These activists pretend their ultimate goal is to end bullying, but only the naïve or ignorant believe that whopper.  The truth is that they are exploiting legitimate anti-bullying sentiment in order to implement their politicized anti-bullying programs, all in the service of achieving their ultimate goal: the eradication of conservative moral beliefs about homosexuality.

If they can’t achieve that doctrinaire goal, they will reluctantly settle for bullying conservatives into silence.  They will accept an America in which it is politically, legally, or socially impossible for conservatives to express the moral beliefs homosexual activists can’t eradicate, leaving homosexuals and their allies free to gambol about the public square with all  their  First Amendment rights intact–rights they seek to diminish for conservatives.

The current skirmish is turning into a battle royale, now that Rolling Stone Magazine has poked its huge proboscis into the fray with an outrageous piece of agitprop.  This exercise in faux-journalism shamelessly exploits a tragic series of teen suicides to malign the conservative community group by asserting with arrogant absolutist certainty that Evangelicals caused the suicide cluster.  The subtitle of the article includes these words: “evangelicals have created an extreme anti-gay climate.”

And what evidence does writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely provide for her imputation of guilt to Evangelicals?  She points to the Anoka-Hennepin School Board-created policy that requires teachers to remain neutral in their curricula regarding the topic of “sexual orientation.”  The Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy (SOCP) states that “Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.”

The SOCP, which is informally called the “neutrality policy,” has been challenged by homosexual activists and the teachers’ union, whose president, Julie Blaha, was surprisingly candid in publicly stating to the press and the school board that teachers should have the right to express their opinions on controversial issues in class.  That’s a remarkable and troubling public admission.

Of the many remarkable rhetorical abuses Erdely commits in her article, perhaps the most remarkable is that Erdely doesn’t even attempt to prove a direct connection between Evangelicalism, Evangelicals, or the neutrality policy and  bullying.

I wonder how many conservative teachers oppose the SOCP?  Conservative teachers know that even if the policy were eliminated, they would be hauled before administrative kangaroo courts if they dared speak their opinions on homosexuality.  They know that without such policy, homosexual teachers and their progressive colleagues are the only teachers who really enjoy the freedom to express their opinions, which transforms education into indoctrination. I’m guessing that conservative teachers appreciate policy that levels the pedagogical playing field; keeps emotionally charged, contentious subjects out of curricula; and helps keep their self-righteous and mouthy “progressive” colleagues in check.

Erdely revealed that, thanks to a district teacher (not named in her article) who contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the malignant, money-grubbing, press-hungry SPLC is on the scene as well, suing the district.

Here are some thoughts and questions regarding the Rolling Stone hit piece:

  1. In an article about a purported Evangelical “war on gay teens,” Rolling Stone writer Erdely mentions nine suicides, while only one of the teens identified as homosexual and three others were called anti-“gay” epithets.  It should be pointed out that, contrary to Erdely’s claim, being called an anti-“gay” epithet does not necessarily mean that a teen is being perceived as “gay.”  As Erdely surely knows, epithets are hurled around with little concern for their content or accuracy.  If a term has acquired negative connotations, bullies often pay no attention to its actual meaning.  If they think a term is negative, they use it indiscriminately.  How many kids have been called “retards” when they were neither mentally challenged nor perceived to be.
  2. That means that only four of the nine suicides, which took place over two years at six different schools, had any connection to homosexuality, with three of those teens being called anti-“gay” epithets.
  3. Not once did Erdely suggest that the bullies were Evangelicals or motivated by Evangelical beliefs about homosexuality, which are simply orthodox Christian beliefs widely held by the finest contemporary Protestant and Catholic theologians as well as virtually all theologians in the history of Christendom until the late 20th Century.
  4. Not once did Erdely provide evidence that the neutrality policy, which students didn’t even know about, caused the bullying of the one homosexual student or the three who were called anti-“gay” epithets.
  5. Erdely says that the mother of one of the students who committed suicide “acknowledges that her daughter….likely had many issues that combined to push her over the edge, but feels strongly that bullying was one of those factors.”  This mother’s “feeling” that bullying was one of multiple contributing factors to her daughter’s suicide led Erdely to conclude with utter certitude that the school’s curricular neutrality policy and Evangelicals were the ultimate cause.  Erdely never explained precisely how the neutrality policy or Evangelicals were the ultimate cause.  Did she talk to the bullies?  Were they Evangelicals?
  6. Did Erdely look into the beliefs and backgrounds of any of the purported bullies?  Did she ask if they are Evangelicals?  Did she inquire into the motives for their bullying?  Do they come from dysfunctional families or single parent homes?  Have they experienced violence in their homes?  Do they have academic problems or psychological disorders?  Do they watch a lot of violent television or play violent video games?
  7. Did she talk to any teens who have deeply held Evangelical beliefs to find out what their thoughts are about homosexuality and bullying?
  8. If Erdely is really concerned about preventing suicides, why did she spend virtually no time exploring all the factors that experts identify as contributing to suicidal ideation, like mental illness, family dysfunction and divorce, family financial problems, and substance abuse?
  9. Erdely cites 10th-grader Sam Pinilla who says he was pushed to the ground and called “faggot” while a teacher stood nearby and did nothing.  Erdely also describes a 10th-grade girl who said she was called a “‘lesbo’” and “‘sinner” within “earshot of teachers” and that when she reported the incident to an associate principal, he told her to “lay low.”  Did Erdely verify those incidents?  Did she track down the teacher who supposedly heard and did nothing?  And again how does Erdely connect curricular neutrality policy to the teachers’ purported failure to properly enforce anti-bullying policy?
  10. Did Erdely talk to any conservative teachers to ask if they thought the neutrality policy or Evangelicalism caused bullying?  If so, how?  If not, what do they think causes bullying?  Did she ask them if they have ignored bullying?
  11. Did she ask liberal teachers who oppose the neutrality policy precisely how the neutrality policy causes hatred or bullying? Did she ask if they could provide evidence that either Evangelicals or the neutrality policy caused the  bullying?
  12. Erdely employs a deceitful modus operandi throughout her screed.  She tries to make the extraordinarily strained case that the curriculum neutrality policy causes bullying without providing a single piece of evidence.  She simply describes bullying incidents and then mentions the neutrality policy or conservatives who support it. Apparently in Erdely’s irrational world, geographic proximity within her article proves that the SOCP policy causes bullying.  The entire article constitutes an extended example of use of the false cause fallacy.
  13. Erdely contacted the parent group (PAL) and asked them eight questions. PAL sent back a 1,540-word response. Of those 1,540 words, Erdely used 54.  Perhaps their responses didn’t fit her narrative.
  14. In a clear attempt to marginalize the efforts of PAL, Erdely reports that she was told the PAL group is relatively few in number. Is Erdely suggesting that the size of a group indicates the goodness or rightness of its mission? Might there be understandable reasons for the reluctance of many conservatives to publicly oppose homosexual activism? Would Erdely admit that homosexual activists and their allies accuse anyone who disagrees with their moral assumptions of hatred?  Would she acknowledge that fear of the wrath of the “tolerant” might lead many who support the actions of PAL to stay out of the public square, thus making the numbers of supporters appear smaller than they really are?
  15. Erdely included a distasteful caricaturization of the appearance of one of the women who leads PAL.  Erdely describes her as Michele Bachmann’s “dowdier doppelganger… A bespectacled grandmother with lemony-blond hair she curls severely toward her face.”  Why does Erdely include no unflattering physical descriptions of, for example, teachers’ union president, Julie Blaha?  What hypocrisy from a representative of the “no name-calling” crowd.
  16. In its response to Erdely’s questions, PAL included a link to a recent op-ed that appeared in the homosexual magazine The Advocate, in which David McFarland argued that articles just like Ederly’s can contribute to teen suicide.  Here’s an excerpt from that relevant  editorial that Erdely didn’t even mention, probably because it didn’t fit her narrative either:

[W]e have a responsibility to change our tactics….

Communicating about this crisis is complicated because the reasons a person attempts suicide are also complicated. Even talking about specific suicides online and in the media can encourage more deaths.

[T]here are ways of talking about suicide that could increase the likelihood of other at-risk people attempting to take their own lives.  This is because suicide is closely tied to psychological well-being.

When we draw direct lines from sexual orientation or bullying to suicide, it can influence someone who is at-risk to assume that taking your own life is what you’re supposed to do next if you are LGBT or bullied. This may not seem rational, but attempting to take your own life is an irrational act.

As a caring community, we can help avoid making suicide appear like a logical choice by putting distance between statements or stories describing instances of bullying and instances of suicide.

Another factor that increases risk is suicide contagion – the link between media reports and a person’s decision to attempt suicide. In other words, the more a story of a particular victim is out there, the more likely one or more people who are at-risk will also attempt suicide.

I hope readers will take the time to read Erdely’s article, in which she relies on the use of logical fallacies, including appeals to emotion, false cause, and ad hominem attacks, to manipulate her readers. I will grant this possibility: Perhaps she is unfamiliar with logic.

Clearly, Erdely is not concerned with ending teen suicide.  Her mission, pursued with messianic fervor, is to humiliate conservatives into submission by any unethical means necessary.  Christians in Minnesota and other school districts around the country must not cower in fear.

Teachers are employees of the government.  In that role, they have no right to affirm controversial moral beliefs, even if they believe that doing so will reduce the incidence of bullying.  There are ways to curb bullying without affirming controversial, non-factual moral (or political assumptions). Schools must ensure that teachers not exploit their government-subsidized employment to engage in moral or political philosophizing.

To prevent the kind of ideological propagandizing in which homosexual activists and their allies seek to engage in the classroom, policy must explicitly prohibit teachers from expressing their personal views on controversial issues.  In addition, policy must be written that requires teachers who use resources that embody or espouse one set of views on controversial topics to spend equal time studying resources written by scholars who espouse competing views. This is particularly important in English, theater, and social studies classes.

I hope that Anoka-Hennepin taxpayers, with or without children enrolled in schools, will join with the Parents Action League by appearing at their upcoming school board meetings, contacting school board members, and writing letters to their local press.  This is not a battle for the fainthearted, thin-skinned, or spineless.  But it is a battle worth fighting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 8, 2012

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that writer Sabrina Rudely Erdely had identified the names of only seven suicide victims, when she had identified the names of nine.  Of the nine, one identified as homosexual, and four had been called anti-“gay” epithets. The suicides of five of the students had no connection to homosexuality or anti-“gay” epithets. IFI regrets the error.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins became the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High...
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