Judge Rules Religious Parents Can't Opt Kids Out of LGBT Lessons

A request by parents of children attending public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, to let their children opt out of classes where LGBTQIA+ books are being read and discussed was dismissed by a US District Court on August 24th.

However, the fight between the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) school district and various parental rights organizations is still far from over, as the decision is a preliminary injunction to the request, and the judge would still need to hear the whole case before making a final decision.

The judge’s opinion and order document stated that “the plaintiffs have not shown that MCPS’s use of the storybooks crosses the line from permissible influence to potentially impermissible indoctrination.

This request came after the MCPS announced the introduction of a more inclusive English/Language arts curriculum for its pre-K to 5th-grade students, causing a public outroar and drawing criticisms from both school principals and parents.

Some of the books included in the new Pre-K curriculum were “Pride Puppy!,” an illustrated children’s book telling the story of a family celebrating Pride Day, and “My Rainbow,” a 2020 illustrated book about a mom making a rainbow-colored wig for her transgender daughter.

As soon as the curriculum was released to the public last October 2022, school principals in the county wrote a letter to the school district’s officials, expressing their concerns over the age-appropriateness of the books.

Families who felt the books were against their religious beliefs also requested the option to remove their children from classes using the materials. Although some school principals in the county extended this option to families at their schools, the MCPS ended this option in March, creating tensions between parents and the school board.

Three Muslim and Christian families sued the school district last May 24th, claiming that teaching the new material without giving the parents the right to excuse their children violated their religious freedom.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the legal organization representing the parents who filed the request, said they would appeal the preliminary decision.

“The School Board should let kids be kids and let parents decide how and when to best educate their own children consistent with their religious beliefs,” Eric Baxter, the group’s vice president, wrote in a statement.

Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland chapter director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the United States, released a statement on the evening of August 24th, saying that “until the opt-out option is restored, we plan to pursue every available legal means on behalf of families to protect their rights.

David Fishback, the advocacy co-chair for PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Maryland, applauded the decision, explaining that the new curriculum could make a difference in the lives of children experiencing depression, suicide, and loneliness because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Children should not feel that there is something wrong with them,” Fishback, whose kids were MCPS students in the late 1990s and came out as gay in their teenage years, said.

With the rise of parental organizations protesting the new curriculum, including the Islamic-centric Family Rights for Religious Freedom created by Wael Elkoshairi, many Muslim voices supporting the LGBTQIA+ community were raised.

According to Afsheen A. Shamsi, the vice president of communication at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, protecting the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community will benefit the Muslim community as well.

Today it’s the LGBTQ community, tomorrow it will be the Muslim community … We have to be careful about who we ally with because the religious right does have a track record of discriminating against some of the community as well,” Shamsi said.

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