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Trustees Ignore the Public’s Trust

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Joan of Arc they ain’t.

That is, there’s nothing particularly heroic about the Three Unwise Women of Westminster who seem to have forgotten that the only master they’ve been elected to serve is the electorate of a public school district. Whom they choose to serve on their own time is up to them.

Invoking religious beliefs, the three Westminster School District trustees have refused to sign off on an updated district policy that reflects a state anti-discrimination law. Their refusal jeopardizes as much as $40 million in state and federal funding.

I wonder if the employees and 10,000 students in the K-8 district will laud their courage if the money dries up.

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Beats me, but what I do know is that the women, who are a majority on the five-member board, have committed a couple of sins.

One is obvious: risking public funds representing about two-thirds of the district’s budget. The other is less obvious: By linking their votes to Christian beliefs, the women do a potential disservice to other religious-minded office-seekers who already have to overcome some voters’ concerns that their theology will supersede the public’s business.

What makes this more aggravating is that many, many Christian school board members wouldn’t have voted as Judy Ahrens, Helena Rutkowski and Blossie Marquez-Woodcock did.

In essence, the district was told to rework the language in its anti-discrimination policy to broaden the definition of gender to mean “a person’s actual sex or perceived sex and includes a person’s perceived identity, appearance or behavior,” even if that is different from their gender at birth.

Convoluted, I know, but it’s mostly talking about transsexuals. Assuming there aren’t a lot of transsexual fifth-graders in Westminster schools, we’re talking about faculty or staff.

Whatever.

I realize that kind of language causes people to roll their eyes and think the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But discrimination is discrimination and -- more important, it’s the law -- and all school board members in California sign an oath to, in so many words, uphold the law.

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“I can’t with a clear conscience ... vote for this trash,” Marquez-Woodcock told The Times. I assume she meant including transsexuals in a protected class. Ahrens said, “It’s amazing how much we’ve eroded our society.”

She’s right, but it’s not new. Every generation in American history has said that about the one that followed it. Somehow, we survive. More to the point, the issue isn’t about the women casting a “moral” vote to stop social erosion; it’s about following the law, as every other district in the state has done.

To show you how wrong the women are, imagine for a moment that all three weren’t Christians -- but, rather, devout Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims -- and invoked their faith as the basis for not endorsing state law. The result would be an instant recall movement. Someone would hasten to tell them that we live in a legalistic society, not a theocracy.

Still, the women have made their point, and I take them at their word that they oppose discrimination but have a problem with granting legal protection for women who think they’re men or vice versa. If they insist on remaining true to a higher calling, I salute them. If they must adhere to their principles, their course of action is clear.

I’d suggest they lock arms at the next board meeting and read the following statement: “Our religious beliefs are inviolate, and they apparently now are in conflict with our oath to ‘bear true faith and allegiance’ to the state Constitution. Because we refuse to renege on our sacred beliefs, we reluctantly resign our positions.”

Dana Parsons’ column

appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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