Civil Rights Groups in New Mexico Denounce High School Contest Soliciting Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Student Essays

November 22, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

FARMINGTON, NM – The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups are protesting an essay contest at Farmington's Piedra Vista High School that asked students to explain why preserving marriage between men and women is vital society and why unborn children merit respect and protection.
 
The ACLU of New Mexico, Equality New Mexico, and NARAL Pro-Choice New Mexico said the contest violates state regulations banning sexual orientation discrimination by teachers.  They also object to the ideological slant of such an assignment.
 
"The contest had nothing to do with encouraging critical thinking," said ACLU of New Mexico staff sttorney George Bach.  "It was a tactic to shape students' political views in the guise of an objective school assignment."
 
The parent of a student who is a sophomore at Piedra Vista High School contacted the ACLU last month to complain about the contest.  The assignment was issued in connection with an essay contest sponsored by United Families International, a non-profit established in 1978, whose primary mission is "to strengthen the family by promoting marriage between one man and woman and the protection of human life, including unborn children."  The students were given the option of either writing a response to two questions about preserving marriage and the protection of the “unborn” or submitting a personal narrative.
 
The ACLU contacted Donny Ortiz, Piedra Vista High School Principal, outlining its concerns and proposing an essay contest that would prompt students to write about alternative viewpoints.
 
In his response letter to the ACLU, Ortiz declined the offer of a competing essay contest.  He also explained that New Mexico Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia distributed the original essay contest school districts for interested students only.

"Piedra Vista High School's apparent lack of respect for diversity in thought is troubling," said Alexis Blizman, Executive Director of Equality New Mexico, an organization committed to full equality and justice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.  "Students in taxpayer-funded public schools simply shouldn't be forced to accept one viewpoint over another, regardless of the issue."
 
The Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice New Mexico, Giovanna Rossi, said, "Our schools should put education before ideology.  Teachers should present factual, unbiased information about health and sexuality -- values are taught at home, but the facts should be taught at school."
 

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