Get ready, schoolkids: the culture wars are coming to a cafeteria near you.
According to the New York Times, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group founded in Montgomery, Ala., and the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, a religious organization devoted to fight the “increasing ungodliness” in the nation are butting heads over the SPLC’s “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” program.
The initiative, launched 10 years ago as part of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project, encourages students throughout the United States to “identify, question and cross social boundaries” by getting to know peers with whom they ordinarily might not interact. This year, 2,580 schools have signed up to participate in the Oct. 30 event, according to the SPLC website. Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, told the Times that the day’s purpose is to prevent bullying and break up cliques.
This isn’t how the AFA views the affair, however. In an Oct. 3 press release, the organization accused the SPLC of using Mix It Up Day to “establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools, including elementary and junior high schools.” The Times reported the AFA has also instructed parents to keep their kids home on Oct. 30 and contact their schools to explain why.
As of last week about 200 schools have canceled the event, according to the Times. But Costello said although bullies often target gays and lesbians, the day is intended to highlight the problem of bullying in general, and none of the scheduled activities specifically address homosexual students.
“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” she told the Times. “We’ve become used to the idea of lunatic fringe attacks, but this one was complete misrepresentation.”
But AFA leaders argue that the SPLC’s anti-bullying initiative is merely a front.
“Anti-bullying legislation is exactly the same,” Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s director of issue analysis for government and public policy, told the Times.
“It’s just another thinly veiled attempt to promote the homosexual agenda. No one is in favor of anyone getting bullied for any reason, but these anti-bullying policies become a mechanism for punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior is not something that should be normalized.”
In an appearance on CNN Newsroom‘s morning edition on Oct. 16, Fischer went further.
“What this program is, it’s like poisoned Halloween candy,” he told CNN’s Carol Costello. “Somebody takes a candy bar, injects it with cyanide, the label looks fine, it looks innocuous … It’s not until you internalize it that you realize how toxic it is.”
This latest conflict occurrs in the wake of recent exchanges between the AFA and the SPLC, the Times reported. Before the Mix It Up Day scuffle, the SPLC added the AFA to its list of active hate groups. The AFA responded by labeling the SPLC a Christianity-suppressing hate group which sought to destroy organizations that oppose homosexuality. Maureen Costello has characterized the AFA’s treatment of the anti-bullying initiative as “a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”
Despite warnings they received from the AFA, some schools have still chosen to proceed with the event, including Avon Grove Charter School in rural Pennsylvania. Principal Kevin Brady told the Times that Avon Grove parents — despite initial concerns following a AFA email — decided they would send their children to school after learning how the program worked. The AFA message the school received cautioned about a Mix It Up Day that Brady described had “absolutely no resemblance to what we do.”
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