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The Salt Lake City School Board faces an unenviable task as it ponders whether or not to permit student homosexual clubs to meet in public high school facilities.

The decision presents the board with a major test of its judgment and courage. The best that can be hoped for is some middle ground between the extremes of permitting all kinds of student clubs in the schools or none at all. One suggested option would open school facilities only to student clubs related to the curriculum, a policy that would bar a variety of innocuous but constructive clubs.But no matter what the board decides, it cannot possibly satisfy all sides of this highly emotional dispute. Consequently, the prospect is for continuing controversy - including possible lawsuits - even after the board holds a public hearing on the issue Feb. 20 and reaches a decision.

So be it. The board wasn't hired just to handle the simple problems or take the easy way out. Otherwise, it would not be needed.

But if one thing is clear at this point, it is that whatever the board does should reflect community values - values that have long viewed homosexual practices as a serious problem to be combatted rather than merely pitied or tolerated, let alone abetted.

To say this is not to condone the vile language and physical violence often directed at homosexuals. This page was quick to endorse past legislation to specifically include homosexuals among the individuals and groups covered by laws against hate crimes. Utah, after all, was settled by people fleeing hate crimes. It is still appalling that more than half the identified hate crimes in Utah are aimed at homosexuals.

Nor should opposition to the proposed clubs be interpreted as an automatic repudiation of the claim that the purpose of the clubs is not to teach homosexual practices or recruit new adherents but only to provide safe havens where homosexuals can discuss common concerns as well as find mutual understanding and acceptance.

The trouble is that the school board cannot permit these clubs without at least appearing to sanction the practice of homosexuality and opening the door to demands for other sex-related clubs or even those for, say, gangs and drug users.

Nor can the board or any other body blink away the fact that homosexual practices are illegal as well as immoral for thoroughly justifiable reasons.

Few, if any, groups have worse health problems than homosexuals. Even before AIDS, homosexuals were highly vulnerable to many communicable venereal diseases.

For many centuries, a wide variety of nations and cultures have outlawed homosexuality long before its association with AIDS because of the great harm it does to society's basic unit, the family.

If, despite all this, federal law is still deemed to mandate clubs for homosexuals in schools where other student clubs are permitted, then such an inappropriate interpretation should be challenged in the courts or the law should be rewritten - no matter how long it takes.

The bottom line is that homosexuality activities and practices are an abomination, not just some "alternate lifestyle" no better or worse than others.

Keep in mind, too, that as far as society is concerned the problem is not so much with people who experience homosexual tendencies and impulses but exercise self-discipline and do not act on them. Rather, the problem is with active, practicing homosexuals who do not change or in some cases do not even want or try to change. Most serious of all is the problem created when some aggressive activists seek to make society weaken or even discard tested and proved moral standards or at least make the public feel guilty about not accepting homosexuality's practitioners and promoters on their own terms.

Even when the objective of such activists is not just acceptance but provocation, the proper reaction of society and individuals alike is to remain calm but firm. Compassion and understanding do not require or even excuse steps that would imply official approval of homosexuality. It's time to draw a clear line that must not be crossed. The challenge now before the Salt Lake City School Board provides an opportunity to do just that.