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A Vote Yes marriage amendment sign stands at the exit of the parking lot at Holy Rosary School on Monday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Some parents protest Duluth school's 'Vote Yes' signs for Minnesota marriage amendment

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At Holy Rosary School in Duluth, it's been a battle of the political signs some mornings, with one group of parents protesting the presence of a message to "Vote Yes" for the marriage amendment in front of the school.

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The Catholic Diocese of Duluth says parents shouldn't be surprised that the school reflects the beliefs of the church that operates it.

On Monday, four Holy Rosary School parents gathered on a sidewalk outside the school wearing orange same-sex marriage amendment Vote No T-shirts and holding Vote No signs.

"I love the school," said parent Maureen Tobin Stanley. "The children are taught to be kind, good human beings, which is what we teach at home, as well. And yet, I don't think the signs fall into that. I think the signs are homophobic, and that is fostering fear and hatred rather than tolerance and acceptance."

Minnesota voters will be asked Nov. 6 whether the state constitution should be amended to define marriage as a union between one woman and one man. Same-sex marriage supporters have waged a bitter fight against the measure.

One parent of a Holy Rosary student, en route to work, had a sign tied to his bike. The mini-demonstration inspired two other Holy Rosary parents to approach the group for civil discourse: one politely, one angrily. Other parents offered thumbs-up signals to the quiet foursome during the morning drop-off.

The Vote Yes signs were placed on school property with consent of the school's priest, the Rev. Peter Muhich, and principal Jesse Murray, said Kyle Eller, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Duluth.

"Holy Rosary is a Catholic school, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to uphold Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage," Eller said. "They are supporting Minnesota's Catholic bishops in this effort."

But Tobin Stanley and other parents say they don't think a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, Catholic or not, is the place for such political messages.

Kim and Romesh Lakhan have two children at the school. The Lakhan parents and others demonstrated peacefully outside the school three weeks ago, they said, after the signs first went up. One parent upset by the protest called the police. Three squads responded, but said only that protesters had the right to be on a public sidewalk, Kim Lakhan said.

Their children wore Vote No shirts to school and were made to put sweat shirts over them, Kim Lakhan said. A Vote No sticker was removed from one child's water bottle by a teacher.

"I believe the church has the right to express its opinion," Kim Lakhan said. "But I do not want it in front of the school. I do not want my kids feeling pressured that their parents are going to hell if they don't vote correctly. My kids, this is very close to their hearts and they want to be vocal. And we're trying to teach them how to do so respectfully."

But parent Scott Pionk, who supports the school's Vote Yes signs, says the amendment vote is not only a political issue but a moral one.

"And that's why my kids are there," he said of Holy Rosary. "They get a spiritual education every day. When there is a spiritual issue that overlaps with politics, I want them to know about it. That's one of the beauties of a Catholic school. They can't be told that they can't teach about morals on their own premises."

Dan Glisczinski has four children at the school. A former Catholic school principal and teacher, and a current UMD education professor, he thinks the marriage amendment issue is an important one to discuss inside the Catholic family, because "two signs don't actually talk to each other."

He spent five minutes having a civil conversation with parent Jim Jarocki on Monday morning when he pulled his car over to the side of the road. Glisczinski said later the group wasn't protesting but was demonstrating its Catholic conscience.

"Nobody learns from being talked at," he said. "There has to be room for discussion."

One parent was upset that children were dragged into the issue, and possibly distracted by their presence, Glisczinski said.

"The issue probably came to our kids when Vote Yes signs went up at kid-eye-level at our school and our church," he said. "I think the honest and civil discourse process will be more memorable and educative to our kids than who was on which side of which vote."

Pionk said he had no issue with parents demonstrating outside of the school.

"They are completely free to do that," he said, noting that "whichever way the vote goes, we have to learn how to co-exist."Eller said he wasn't aware of the school allowing political signs of a similar nature on its property before.

"Obviously, the church doesn't get involved in partisan politics," he said. "We do have the right, and sometimes the obligation, to speak out about issues that involve moral questions like this."

Kim Lakhan said sending her children to Holy Rosary is a choice, and she will continue to do so.

"It is an excellent school," she said, and her family has a tradition of attending.

She wants to teach her children not to "flaunt the bee's nest, but not walk away, either," she said.

Her husband agreed.

"It's a political issue that not all Catholics agree on," Romesh Lakhan said. "I think we should keep the politics out of the school. We really don't want to protest. But if they keep the signs, we feel obligated to voice our opinions, as well."

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