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Fourth Circuit: Maryland parents can’t opt their K-5 students out of LGBTQ teachings


[UPDATE]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Wednesday declined to grant Maryland parents’ request to allow them to opt their elementary school children out of lessons on LGBT issues and sexuality.

The case arose after Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the state’s largest school district, created an LGBT-inclusive book list for K-5 teachers to use in the fall of 2022. At first, the district claimed it had no intention to make the books mandatory, but after numerous parents asked to opt their children out of the lessons, officials notified parents that all children had to participate in the readings due to the MCPS’s belief that an opt-out clause would compromise its mission to foster inclusivity of LGBT beliefs.

The books not only teach children with resources and discussions that normalize LGBTQ behavior and lifestyles, including pride parades, bondage, gay weddings, and gender-fluid pronouns, but also expose them to sexually explicit material. One of the books instructs three and four year olds to search for images from a list of words that includes: intersex flag, drag queen, underwear, leather, and the name of a celebrated LGBTQ activist and sex worker.

The lessons also instructed teachers to respond to students’ criticisms or disagreements regarding the material by admonishing them to accept alternative views, including using this statement:

“When we are born, people make a guess about our gender and label us ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ based on our body parts. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. Our body parts do not decide our gender. Our gender comes from inside — we might feel different than what people tell us we are. We know ourselves best.”

Numerous parents of different religions, including Catholics, members of the Eastern Orthodox church, Muslims, Jews, and more, protested the district’s decision to make the classroom lessons mandatory for their children, claiming that it violates their right to raise their children as their religions instruct.

Several parents then filed suit against the MCPS, but U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Boardman ruled against them. Boardman claimed that the district exposing children to differing beliefs did not prevent the parents from teaching their beliefs at home.

The parents then appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit, explaining that they are not seeking to have the books on the list banned, only to have the right to shield their children from the material and any discussion of the beliefs around it.

This week, a three-judge panel declined to grant a preliminary injunction that would have forced the district to grant parents the right to opt out their children from the teachings.

In a 2-1 decision, the majority ruled that they don’t have enough information to decide whether or not the parents are likely to succeed on the merits of the case when it’s adjudicated, explaining,

“We take no view on whether the Parents will be able to present evidence sufficient to support any of their various theories once they have the opportunity to develop a record as to the circumstances surrounding the Board’s decision and how the challenged texts are actually being used in schools. At this early stage, however, given the Parents’ broad claims, the very high burden required to obtain a preliminary injunction, and the scant record before us, we are constrained to affirm the district court’s order denying a preliminary injunction.”

In the ruling, authored by Judge G. Steven Agee, the majority claimed that thus far, there was little evidence the school had violated the parents’ right to raise their children in their faith because, according to the district, no child was being asked to change their views.

Agee claimed that there was no “developed record” of how the district was using the books.

“We understand the Parents’ contention that the Storybooks could be used in ways that would confuse or mislead children and, in particular, that discussions relating to their contents could be used to indoctrinate their children into espousing views that are contrary to their religious faith. But none of that is verified by the limited record that is before us,” Agee wrote.

In his dissent, Judge Marvin Quattlebaum argued that the parents had “shown the board’s decision to deny religious opt-outs burdened these parents’ right to exercise their religion and direct the religious upbringing of their children by putting them to the choice of either compromising their religious beliefs or foregoing a public education for their children.”

He added, “They do not claim the use of the books is itself unconstitutional. And they do not seek to ban them. Instead, they only want to opt their children out of the instruction involving such texts.”

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund, a law firm representing the parents, stated,

“The court just told thousands of Maryland parents they have no say in what their children are taught in public schools. That runs contrary to the First Amendment, Maryland law, the school board’s own policies, and basic human decency.”


{Published August 28, 2023}  A U.S. district court judge has refused to grant a temporary injunction to Maryland parents who sued Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), ruling that they do not have the right to opt their children out of lessons and books that violate their religious beliefs by teaching their children about romantic relationships, LGBTQ topics, and sexual themes, including bondage and prostitution.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the largest school district in Maryland, approved “over 22 LGBT+ inclusive texts for use in the classroom” last fall. The list includes books like Pride Puppy, which is read in MCPS preschools and takes the reader to an LGBTQ pride parade and teaches students words like intersex and drag king.

Other books include Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, which is about a girl’s uncle marrying another man; Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All, which has nine characters of different backgrounds who share their “collective struggle for justice”; Prince & Knight, which tells the story of a young male prince who works with a male knight to defeat a dragon and they get married; Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope, which is about a girl in elementary school that struggles to convince others she is a boy.

Another book, and the district’s guidelines for teachers, tell students that doctors only “guess” what a baby’s sex is at birth and that they can be wrong. Another book instructs “three and four year olds to search for images from a list of words that includes: ‘intersex flag,’ ‘drag queen,’ ‘underwear,’ ‘leather,’ and the name of a celebrated LGBTQ activist and sex worker.”

Initially, the district notified parents before the books were to be read and allowed parents to opt their children out of the lessons, but they soon ran into problems. At a meeting of principals, it was decided that principals and teachers “could not accommodate the growing number of opt out requests without causing significant disruptions to the classroom environment and undermining MCPS’s educational mission.”

Believing that the concerns would defeat its efforts to create a supposedly safe and inclusive environment, MCPS decided to eliminate the opt-out policy.

Several Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Muslim parents filed suit against MCPS, arguing that the removal of the opt-out policy violates their right to raise their children according to their faith and exposed their children to topics at an early age that would undermine their innocence.

The case came before U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Boardman, who ruled that the opt-out policy did not violate the parents’ First Amendment rights and declined to put the policy temporarily back into place while the case goes through the judicial process. Boardman’s ruling relied heavily on two arguments: 1) The policy does not amount to “coercion to adopt the school’s views”; and 2) the First Amendment does not require the government to act in a way that furthers an individual’s religious beliefs.

Boardman wrote, “Every court that has addressed the question has concluded that the mere exposure in public school to ideas that contradict religious beliefs does not burden the religious exercise of students or parents.”

Critical to Boardman’s determination that no coercion is taking place through the MCPS curriculum was the district’s claim that “No child who does not agree with or understand another student’s, gender, identity or expression, or their sexuality identity is asked to change how they feel about it.”

The plaintiffs had argued that the school board’s documents offering guidance to teachers makes it clear that the board wants teachers to articulate pro-LGBT views as the “correct” views.

Boardman disagreed, ruling,

“Even if one or two of the suggested answers to possible student questions in the School Board’s guidance could be interpreted to promote a particular view as correct, they are not required answers, and they are outliers among the suggested answers that do not promote a particular view.”

As for Boardman’s second argument, she said that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Free Exercise Clause cannot be used to “‘require the Government itself to behave in ways that the individual believes will further his or her spiritual development or that of his or her family.’”

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the parents, responded by stating,

“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. 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.”

The effort to block MCPS’s elimination of an opt-out policy will likely be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Boardman’s ruling not only misrepresents or misunderstands the school board’s guidelines to teachers but it divorces them from the context of MCPS’s larger agenda to indoctrinate children in their own belief system.

Just consider one example of a template response the school board gave to teachers: If a student says, “That’s weird, he can’t be a boy if was born a girl. What body parts do they have?” the teacher is to answer:

That comment is hurtful; we shouldn’t use negative words to talk about peoples’ identities. Sometimes when we learn information that is different from what we always thought, it can be confusing and hard to process. When we are born, people make a guess about our gender and label us ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ based on our body parts. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. Our body parts do not decide our gender. Our gender comes from inside — we might feel different than what people tell us we are. We know ourselves best.”

Does that sound like the district is not taking an ideological stance or using the teacher’s authority to encourage the student to adopt views that oppose his/her or their parents’ religious beliefs?

This is only one aspect of MCPS’s push to teach students to accept and even embrace LGBT ideology. The district openly celebrates LGBT issues and has a Twitter account devoted to such celebration. Its efforts helped lead to a 582 percent increase in students who reported they were gender non-conforming from 2019-2022.

At board meetings during which numerous parents expressed concerns over the removal of the opt-out policy, board member Lynne Harris called their testimony “disturbing” and said that parents who do not want their children to read pro-LGBT books due to “religious rights” or “core beliefs” are providing kids with “another reason to hate another person.”

Again, does that sound like a neutral school district respecting the religious beliefs of students and their parents? Or does it sound like a district intentionally trying to shape the beliefs of students to adopt the district’s views?

When the district created this policy, its intent was obviously to teach children about the LGBT lifestyle and ideology. What it didn’t expect was that so many parents would protest and opt their children out of the curriculum, thus subverting the district’s goals.

Requesting that a school grant parents an opt-out option so their preschooler doesn’t have to learn about sex workers and drag queens wearing leather isn’t demanding the government conform to parents’ religious beliefs, it’s demanding that the government respect parents’ constitutional right to direct their child’s morals and upbringing, as has been continuously upheld by over a century of Supreme Court precedent.

The judge got this very wrong and hopefully an appellate court will recognize that the government has no business indoctrinating children in radical ideologies against their parents’ will.

As seen in this article, many K-12 schools now embrace the secular woke agenda and are hostile to Christian beliefs and parental rights. Fortunately, parents don’t have to settle for this. Liberty University Online Academy is a K-12 program designed to educate your children in the ways of the Lord while preparing them to stand firm in their faith when they graduate. Our flexible online curriculum ensures that your student is trained at your convenience and keeps YOU the ultimate educator of your children.

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