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Written by Admin    Monday, 22 June 2009 19:38    PDF Print E-mail
MASSACHUSETTS DISTRICT COURT DISMISSES ARMENIAN GENOCIDE DENIAL CASE
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Dear Zoryan Friends:

We are pleased to share with you a long-awaited ruling on the Massachusetts Board of Education Lawsuit, known officially as Griswold v. Driscoll. After four years of deliberation, the judge today released his ruling and dismissed the complaint.

Launched in 2005, nominally by three students (the first of whom is named Theodore Griswold) and their relatives and friends, the lawsuit charged that the Massachusetts Board of Education, its Chairman at the time, the Massachusetts Department of Education, and its Commissioner at the time (David Driscoll), removed “contra-genocide” websites from the State’s curriculum guide relating to the Armenian Genocide, solely for political, rather than educational reasons, which they claim was unlawful.

This is a victory in the struggle to promote education of the Armenian Genocide and understanding of its important position in the history of the scourge of modern genocide. Those who engage in its denial have vast resources and use pseudo-scholarship, legal technicalities and confusion to persuade those who are not well acquainted with the facts that there was no Armenian Genocide. Denial of the Armenian Genocide interferes with our ability to apply the lessons of history to the prevention of other genocides, and thus harms not only Armenians, but everyone.

The arguments on either side of the case and the reasons for dismissal are detailed in the attached 30-page ruling. A summary is provided below.

Background

In 1998, the Massachusetts Legislature directed the state Board of Education to prepare and distribute to all school districts and advisory Curriculum Guide for teaching about genocide and human rights. A draft of the guide released in January 1999 referred to the Armenian Genocide. A Turkish group urged the Commission of Education to include in the guide reference to sources supporting the viewpoint that the fate of the Armenians did not result from a Turkish policy of genocide, but rather from other factors. In response to this request, the Commissioner added references to several contra-genocide websites, and the guide was filed with the Legislature in March 1999.

The inclusion of these contra-genocide websites prompted a strong response from the Armenian community and its supporters. The Commissioner subsequently removed these references from the guide in June 1999.

In August 1999, Turkish group complained about the removal of these references. The Commissioner responded that the purpose of the legislation was to study these cases of genocide; in any case, the guide was only advisory, and school districts could develop their own approaches to teaching the subject; and the Turkish community was free to advocate its viewpoint at the local level.

The Complaint

In 2005, a case was filed, nominally by three students (the first of whom is named Theodore Griswold) and their relatives and friends. The lawsuit charged that the Massachusetts Board of Education, its Chairman at the time, the Massachusetts Department of Education, and its Commissioner at the time (David Driscoll), removed “contra-genocide” websites from the State’s curriculum guide relating to the Armenian Genocide, solely for political, rather than educational reasons, which they claim was unlawful.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss.


Rationale for Dismissal

1. Public schools play a vital role in preparing students for citizenship. Decisions concerning what should be taught must be made by state and local boards, rather than by federal judges.

2. Public officials may not establish educational policies tailored to the tenets of a religious group, nor compel students to profess a prescribed belief, nor limit their right to express themselves in school unless the restriction is reasonably related to a legitimate educational purpose.

3. Public officials have the right to recommend, or even require, the curriculum that will be taught in public school classrooms. Doing so is a form of government speech, which is not generally subject to First Amendment scrutiny (i.e., related to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government). There is no requirement that such government speech be balanced or neutral. Public officials have the right to decide what should be taught in the effort to prepare students for citizenship.

4. The Plaintiffs’ contention that once the contra-genocide references were added to the Curriculum Guide they could not be removed, which they allege was done solely for political reasons. This contention is not correct. Public officials are entitled to change their minds about what is recommended or required to be taught in public school classrooms.

5. It was not unlawful for the Armenian community to exert political pressure on elected and appointed officials. Politics is the essence of democracy. It is the way that a free and vigorous people make and then change public policy. With regard to what is taught in public school classrooms, it is up to the people to elect and, if they wish, to change their representatives as the means to hold them accountable. This is not a role to be performed by federal judges.

6. The facts of the case demonstrate that the plaintiffs and their supporters are fully capable of participating in the political process.

7. Even if the alleged facts were true, the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights have not been violated.


George Shirinian, Executive Director

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 23 June 2009 06:45 )
 

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