(CNSNews.com) - A homosexual advocacy group charged Wednesday that an agreement allowing "ex-gays" to distribute literature at Arlington County public schools in Northern Virginia is "a capitulation that puts the health and well-being of students at risk."
However, the lawyer for the conservative legal group that represented Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), said the First Amendment ensures that all citizens have a right to be heard on critically important issues.
The school district's agreement essentially confirmed that view by settling the issue in PFOX's favor.
Wayne Besen, executive director for Truth Wins Out, complained in a press release Wednesday that the school district got it wrong. "It is astounding that Arlington County would allow children to take home flyers that promote a therapy leading experts have warned may cause 'depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior,'" said Besen.
"Equal access does not apply to 'ex-gay' therapy any more than it applies to other harmful vices, such as the promotion of drinking or smoking," he said. "It's like saying if you allow flyers for orange juice that Jack Daniels must hand out information as a matter of fairness.
"Arlington County ought to be ashamed for not defending its right to shield students from this clear and present danger," he added.
The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed in May in which PFOX accused the school district of violating its civil rights by not allowing its members to pass out literature to students when other organizations -- including the pro-homosexual Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) -- have been allowed to do so.
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays v. Smith cited a written policy from the school system that "approval is normally given to materials from nonprofit organizations in northern Virginia" and noted that PFOX is based in nearby Fairfax County.
PFOX had submitted two flyers for consideration, one of which stated "ex-gays demonstrate that those with unwanted same-sex attractions can seek help and information in overcoming those feelings."
Steven Aden, with the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom and one of the attorneys representing PFOX in its lawsuit, said the school system never explained its refusal to distribute the organization's materials.
"The district's flyer distribution policy provides absolutely no criteria to guide its officials in determining whether to approve flyers," Aden said. "Such unbridled discretion is flatly unconstitutional."
PFOX gained an unlikely ally in Kent Willis, director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He told reporters the rules on schools' distribution of outside materials can be vague, but a school system can't ban certain organizations if it allows others.
"If you allow flyers, the same rules have to apply to everyone," he said.
In addition, wholesale bans on the distribution of religious material also have been ruled unconstitutional by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Virginia, said Willis.
Earlier this week, attorneys with the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund announced that the school district had agreed to let PFOX "distribute and post its flyers on the same terms and conditions as other Virginia community groups." The resolution also led to the voluntary dismissal of the "ex-gay" organization's lawsuit.
"Christian community groups are not second class to other community groups," said Timothy Tracey, litigation counsel for the Center. "The First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech for all is principally about ensuring that all citizens have a right to be heard on critically important issues."
But on Wednesday, Truth Wins Out -- a group formed to counter "right-wing propaganda," expose the 'ex-gay' myth and "educate America about gay life" -- criticized the agreement as "a capitulation that puts the health and well-being of students at risk."
The settlement "allows PFOX to hand out pseudoscientific flyers at middle schools," Besen said. "The content provided by PFOX is medically reckless and morally reprehensible, and no school system should have a hand in its distribution.
"Arlington County failed in its responsibility to protect students and ensure that they are not harmed by disreputable therapists or dangerous practices," he added.
However, PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs told Cybercast News Service that "ex-gays are living proof that homosexual orientation is not fixed permanently. People can and do make the decision every day to seek help in overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions.
"Because of PFOX, the public is beginning to recognize that ex-gays have much to contribute to the understanding of sexual orientation," Griggs said.
Arlington schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos said the school system makes no judgments on the content or propriety of the information submitted by outside groups.
"If anything's distributed that upsets parents, they would need to address those concerns to PFOX," Erdos said. "We would hope that organizations use discretion" in passing out materials.
Tracey indicated that PFOX intends to do just that because the group is considering distributing flyers at high schools and middle schools but not at elementary schools.
"It's better to aim at a more mature audience," he said.
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