The NEA Strikes Again: Religious Counselors Targeted

The National Education Association is not making many friends among conservatives lately. First, it admits discriminating against the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays organization by refusing to allow them to exhibit at their annual convention. Now, I have learned that NEA materials on sexual orientation are being used by at least one large school district to justify a refusal to refer children to religious agencies for counseling.

I recently learned from a colleague that the NEA-sponsored document, “Just The Facts About Sexual Orientation” has been distributed to all educational staff in the Little Rock, Ark., school district. The document purports to present unbiased information to educators but was undertaken as a propaganda piece against religiously based counseling for ex-gays. My colleague tells me that the superintendent of schools made a copy for all teachers and administrators with a memo requiring all staff to read it and follow its recommendations. What are the recommendations?

“Just the Facts” entreats school personnel to refrain from referring students with sexual orientation issues to religious counselors or ministries because this action might subject them to reorientation counseling. The document alleges that such counseling may be a violation of church and state separation and may expose the school to discrimination lawsuits.

Furthermore, the document alleges, “the promotion of ‘reparative therapy’ and ‘transformational ministry’ is likely to exacerbate the risk of harassment, harm, and fear” where gay, lesbian and bisexual students are concerned. In other words, counseling for students who don’t want to identify as gay may harm them. The document then quotes statements made by various mental health organizations concerning the theorized potential harmful effects of ex-gay counseling.

In short, don’t refer to religious counselors because kids will be harmed and schools will be sued.

Reading this “unbiased information,” no wonder school counselors and administrators run the other way from faith based agencies, even on matters not involving sexuality. Are these reasonable, well-researched recommendations?

No, for at least two reasons. First of all, the separation of church and state does not prevent students from accessing faith-based agencies. Schools may not force a student to enter reorientation counseling or see a religious counselor but neither should educators prevent a student from seeking such help if that is the desire of the student and family.

Faith-based agencies that meet licensing requirements, such as my colleague’s agency, are being discriminated against because they have a religious character and affiliation. What about a student who desires counseling from a person of like faith? Is that student’s preference to be sacrificed to the political objectives of the NEA and like-minded organizations? My colleague said referrals from schools have ceased, whereas his agency once was of great service to the schools. When a school employee was asked why the change, he said, “we’re all afraid we’ll get sued.”

Secondly, the assertion that ex-gay counseling is harmful does not stand up to research scrutiny. There is one peer-reviewed study that documents that some people have experienced harm from some reorientation counseling methods. One. And this study set out deliberately to seek people who were harmed. There was no group of ex-gays included for comparison, although even in this study, some of the participants said they benefited from their experiences.

On the other hand, in a 2002 review of the professional literature concerning ex-gay ministries, I consistently found that in various surveys 90 percent of the respondents benefited from reorientation approaches. Most people questioning their sexuality seem to benefit from balanced counseling on the matter. Why withhold this information and options from school kids and their families?

There is at least one ironic aspect to the Arkansas situation. The NEA released a document in 2002 designed to promote school safety for “gay and lesbian students.” Part of the plan involves giving “students, education employees and the general public … accurate, objective and up-to-date information regarding the needs of, and problems confronting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students.” Surely, “Just the Facts…” is not what was envisioned since it is biased, inaccurate and out of date.

Giving accurate, objective and up-to-date information sounds like a good plan. I wonder when the NEA is going to get around to it?

The folks in Arkansas are waiting.