Parents Plan Appeal as Judge Rules Against Opt-Out Right for LGBT Curriculum in Maryland

Catholic, Muslim and Ethiopian Orthodox parents sued the Montgomery County Board of Education on May 24, after it changed its parental-notification and opt-out policies.

Parental and religious-freedom-rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6 protest a Maryland school-system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework.
Parental and religious-freedom-rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6 protest a Maryland school-system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. (photo: The Religious Freedom Institute)

A district-court judge will allow a Maryland school district to begin the school year on Monday with a new policy that keeps parents out of the loop about LGBTQ+ coursework, but parents intend to appeal that decision. 

Catholic, Muslim and Ethiopian Orthodox parents sued the Montgomery County Board of Education on May 24, after it changed its parental-notification and opt-out policies. Under the new rule, which the board adopted May 1, the school district will not notify parents about reading materials that portray or promote homosexuality, transgenderism, and other aspects of gender ideology and will no longer allow parents to opt out of such coursework. 

The parents asked a district-court judge to prevent the school board from implementing the new policy before classes started on Aug. 28. However, the judge ruled against the parents and will allow the policy to go into effect. The parents, who are represented by the religious-liberty-focused law firm Becket, plan to appeal the decision.

“Parents know and love their children best; that’s why all kids deserve to have their parents help them understand issues like gender identity and sexuality,” Eric Baxter, a vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement. “The school board’s decision to cut parents out of these discussions flies in the face of parental freedom, childhood innocence, and basic human decency.” 

Maryland law requires that schools notify parents about coursework that deals with “family life and human sexuality” and provide them the opportunity to opt their children out. However, the district determined that these reading materials will not be considered part of “family life and human sexuality instruction” and would not be subject to the notification and opt-out rules.

When denying the motion to halt the implementation of the policy, Judge Deborah Boardman sided with the school board and found that the parents are unlikely to succeed in their claims that the policy violates state law. The judge stated that the books in question are a small subset of the English language arts curriculum rather than part of the family life and human sexuality unit of the health curriculum.

The parents also argued that the policy violates their constitutional rights based on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. They argued that the refusal to allow parents to opt their children out of such coursework violates their religious rights because the books promote concepts that are contrary to their religious views. 

In her ruling, Boardman said that this argument rests on the notion that being exposed to these books is indoctrinating the children. She argued in her decision that the “the mere fact that a child is exposed on occasion in public school to a concept offensive to a parent’s religious belief” does not constitute indoctrination. She said parents are still able to provide religious instruction to their children at home. 

Baxter disagreed, saying parents should be in charge of how their children are educated. 

“The court’s decision is an assault on children’s right to be guided by their parents on complex and sensitive issues regarding human sexuality,” Baxter said. “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.” 

Some of the coursework that the parents find objectionable includes reading materials that promote homosexuality and transgenderism to students as young as 3 or 4 years old. 

One book, which was written for children in preschool and kindergarten, teaches children the letters of the alphabet through a story that follows a young child who is searching for a lost dog at a “Pride” parade, while promoting homosexual and transgender themes. The book, called Pride Puppy!, introduces words like “drag queen,” “leather” and “zipper” and even discusses an activist named Marsha B. Johnson who was temporarily a prostitute. 

Some of the other books include commentary that claims doctors only guess what a child’s sex is when the child is born and stories that promote a child’s gender transition. Other books include stories about children in homosexual relationships and discussions of transgender pronouns. 

On Aug. 9, about 50 parents rallied in support of restoring the opt-out while the lawyers made their case in the courtroom. The coalition of parents supporting the opt-out includes dozens of Christian and Muslim parents. 

This is the second lawsuit parental-rights advocates lost in the Montgomery County School District this month. Less than two weeks ago, a separate judge ruled that a group of parents lacked standing to sue over a policy that allows teachers to keep information about a student’s transgender identity hidden from their parents.

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