(CN) – Massachusetts public schools can exclude material disputing the Armenian genocide in guidelines for teaching human rights, the 1st Circuit ruled in a closely watched case.
A Turkish cultural group had objected to a draft of the guidelines, which referred to “the Armenian genocide” and stated that the “Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire destroyed large portions of its Christian Armenian minority population” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Turkish government has denied that the mass killings in 1915 constituted genocide, instead linking the tragedy to deportations during a brutal civil war.
Most Armenians insist that the killings were part of a planned, systematic extinction of between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenian Christians.
Because the issue is so divisive, the school guidelines launched a heated battle between Turkish and Armenian cultural groups in the United States.
A Turkish-American group urged David Driscoll, commissioner of the state’s elementary and secondary education, to revise the guidelines to present the “contra-genocide perspective.”
School officials initially agreed to include pro-Turkish sources, but later removed them under pressure from representatives of Armenian descendants.
Driscoll explained that the state board’s job was to “address the Armenian genocide and not to debate whether or not [it] occurred.”
A group of students, parents, teachers and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations sued, claiming the removal of all “contra-genocide” resources violated their First Amendment rights.
The 1st Circuit in Boston upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of their claims, agreeing that the Turkish group waited too long to sue, and that state education officials can modify the guidelines as part of the state curriculum.
“[T]here is no apparent reason to treat the Guide’s open-ended character as entailing a limit to the Commonwealth’s discretion to modify it,” according to the opinion written by retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
To rule otherwise “might induce school boards to limit the permissible materials for teaching any subject likely to generate heat,” Souter concluded.