A federal court in Maryland decided Thursday that parents can’t opt their kids out of reading books with LGBTQ+ content in Montgomery County Schools.
In Tamer Mahmoud v. Monica B. McKnight, parents sought to reinstate a MCPS policy that would allow them to opt their children out of reading and discussing books with LGBTQ+ characters in elementary schools. The parents argued the content in these books was a form of indoctrination that violated their families’ religious beliefs.
The court disagreed. Judge Deborah L. Boardman, a Biden appointee, concluded that the parents’ “asserted due process right to direct their children’s upbringing by opting out of a public-school curriculum that conflicts with their religious views is not a fundamental right.”
The judge denied the parents’ request for a preliminary injunction that would allow them to opt-out their kids when school begins on August 28.
“Because the plaintiffs have not established any of their claims is likely to succeed on the merits, the Court need not address the remaining preliminary injunction factors. Nonetheless, because a constitutional violation is not likely or imminent, it follows that the plaintiffs are not likely to suffer imminent irreparable harm, and the balance of the equities and the public interest favor denying an injunction to avoid undermining the School Board’s legitimate interests in the no-opt-out policy,” the judge determined.
“The plaintiffs seek the same relief pending appeal as in their preliminary injunction motion: an injunction that requires the Board to provide advance notice and opt-outs from instruction involving the storybooks and family life and human sexuality. For the reasons stated in this opinion, the Court cannot conclude the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of an appeal. The plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction pending appeal is denied.”
The controversy arose last year when Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) introduced more than 22 new books featuring LGBTQ+ characters into classrooms as part of a diversity initiative. Initially, the school district notified parents when these materials would be used in class and permitted them to opt their kids out from instruction involving these books, as they can with other portions of the curriculum.
But in March, the district changed its policy and announced that parents would no longer have that right. A group of religious families of diverse faiths sued, claiming the policy violated their First Amendment right to guide the religious instruction of their children.
But Boardman said otherwise: “The no-opt-out policy does not pressure the parents to refrain from teaching their faiths, to engage in conduct that would violate their religious beliefs, or to change their religious beliefs. The policy may pressure them to discuss the topics raised by the storybooks with their children, but those discussions are anticipated, not prohibited, by the parents’ faiths. The parents are not pressured into violating their religious beliefs in order to obtain the benefits of a public education.”
Eric Baxter, VP and Senior Counsel at Becket – the law firm representing the families – said the ruling “flies in the face of parental freedom, childhood innocence, and basic human decency.”
“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,” Baxter said.
The LGBTQ+ books added to the district’s curriculum are included in pre-K through eighth-grade classrooms and feature references to gay pride parades, gender transition and pronoun preference.
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