When Gender Ideology Infects the Family

COMMENTARY: An Indiana family refused to bow at the ideological altar, and the parents had their son taken away from them by the state’s Department of Child Services. They are now petitioning the Supreme Court to take up their case.

As Catholics, the Coxes believe that God creates each person with an immutable biological sex — male or female.
As Catholics, the Coxes believe that God creates each person with an immutable biological sex — male or female. (photo: SewCreamStudio / Shutterstock)

In the last few years, classrooms and workplaces across the United States have been invaded by the disturbing fantasies of gender ideology.

Progressive activists in our schools, universities, sports and big corporations are denying the scientific reality of the difference between the sexes — and, under the Biden administration, federal and local government officials are trying to force ordinary Americans to submit to this craziness.

Now the battle has spread to the family. Adoptive and foster parents — including grandparents — are being told they can't provide a loving home for vulnerable children unless they indulge those children in their confusion about their gender, and agree to use whatever strange pronouns are in fashion at the moment. And it’s not just adoptive and foster parents who are feeling the ideological heat. One Catholic family in Indiana has suffered the unthinkable: the parents’ son was taken from their home because his parents refused to genuflect to the demands of gender ideology.

In December 2019, Mary and Jeremy Cox’s son (identified as “A.C.” in court filings), left a note to his parents stating that he now identified as a girl. His parents promptly sought out counseling for the child, but after almost a year of seeing little success in addressing the child’s “identity” issues and an emerging eating disorder, they decided to change therapists. They also followed the recommendations of their pediatrician and even agreed to refer to their son using the nickname “A.”

Even though they took these measures to care for their son, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) investigated them after receiving a report that they were not referring to their son using a “cross-gender name” and “cross-gender pronouns.” DCS later filed a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) petition and a motion with the trial court requesting that the Coxes’ son be removed from their home.

DCS justified this brutal action by citing the Coxes’ refusal to embrace an ideology that contradicted their religious beliefs, including not to agreeing to use “preferred pronouns.” The agency also falsely claimed that the parents had admitted that they were not pursuing medical treatment for their son’s potential eating disorder.

As Catholics, the Coxes believe that God creates each person with an immutable biological sex — male or female. They cannot, in good conscience, use a cross-gender name or cross-gender pronouns. They also have pointed to scientific evidence and their own experience as parents to justify their belief that referring to their son with female pronouns would negatively impact their son’s mental health and is not in his best interests.

Despite the fact that the Coxes met all their son’s educational, medical and mental health needs, an Indiana state court concluded that they were neglecting him. Shockingly, it ordered that he be removed from the family home and placed in one that agreed to use a cross-gender name and cross-gender pronouns. The court also ordered the Coxes not to discuss their views “about sex and gender” with their son as a condition of unsupervised visitation.

After five months of litigation, DCS amended its CHINS Petition, dismissing allegations of abuse and neglect by the Coxes; it conceded that the child was, in fact, endangering his own health. Despite these changes, however, the trial court concluded that it was in the boy’s best interests to be barred from his parents’ home. It kept in place its order muzzling the parents and continued to insist that their son be placed in a home that would affirm the boy’s rejection of his biological reality.

An intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court’s orders, and the Indiana Supreme Court declined to intervene. The only recourse to fix this serious miscarriage of justice, then, is a decision from our nation’s highest court in the parents’ favor. The Coxes, represented by local counsel and Becket Law, one of the nation’s best religious freedom law firms, have petitioned the Supreme Court to review their case.

The Coxes claim that barring religious parents from speaking about sex and gender with their child, while also requiring speech that promotes a different viewpoint on those same topics, violates the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. They also argue that removing their child from their home without any sort of particularized finding of neglect or abuse violates their right to the care, custody and control of their son as protected by the 14th Amendment. And, although the Coxes’ son is now over 18 years of age, they explain that the case is not moot and assert that the Court’s review is needed, particularly in light of its national importance.

The Supreme Court has long recognized the right of parents to instruct their children and direct their care and upbringing. In the 1920s, for example, the Court ruled unconstitutional a state law forbidding the teaching of foreign languages in any private, denominational, parochial or public elementary school as “interfering with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” And, in its review of a compulsory public education law, the Court similarly held that it “unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” Fifty years later, the Court reaffirmed parents' constitutional right to direct the religious upbringing of their children, deciding that Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past eighth grade against their parents’ wishes. And in 2000 it struck down a Washington law that allowed any third party to petition state courts for child visitation rights over parental objections.

None of these cases involved the horror we are witnessing today: the extreme government action of removing a child from the home with no actual showing of abuse and neglect. Not only does it take away parents' basic rights to care for their children; it also introduces a sinister restriction on free speech within the family.

As the Coxes convincingly explain in the reply brief to the Supreme Court, the order “turns free speech and parental rights on their heads, as if government intervention to control speech were most justified when speech is between parent and child.”

This Supreme Court, with a majority of justices committed to safeguarding protections guaranteed under the Constitution, is perfectly positioned to set things straight in this case. Vindicating the Coxes will also send an important warning to progressive bureaucrats who think nothing of removing confused, suffering children from good families. But that such a warning is even necessary is in itself alarming.

How did this mad gender ideology get such a grip on society that child services and lower courts act as policemen enforcing it? America is in the grips of what sociologists call a “hysterical epidemic.” How long must we wait before it burns itself out?

Maya Hawke as American writer Flannery O'Connor in the 2024 film "Wildcat."

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Flannery O’Connor shares the big screen with some of her most memorable short story characters in the new indy film ‘Wildcat.’ O’Connor scholar Jessica Hooten Wilson gives her take on the film and what animates the Catholic 20th century writer’s prophetic imagination.Then FUS University President Father David Pivonka explains why Franciscan University of Steubenville has pushed back against the Biden administrations’ new interpretation of Title IX, which redefines sex discrimination to include a student’s self- asserted ‘gender identity.’