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Maryland parents argue for right to opt children out of LGBT curriculum in appeals court

December 5, 2023 Catholic News Agency 0
Parents protest the Montgomery County School Board’s policy blocking them from opting out their children from pro-homosexual and transgender materials. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Becket

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 15:18 pm (CNA).

Attorneys for a group of over 300 primarily Catholic, Muslim, and Ethiopian Orthodox parents from Montgomery County, Maryland, argued in federal court today that the parents should be allowed to opt their children out of school reading materials promoting homosexuality and transgenderism.

According to an attorney representing the parents, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, expedited the case and scheduled the hearing promptly, signaling that a ruling in the case, Mahmoud v. McKnight, is a priority.

“Schools have no business pushing instruction on gender and sexuality without even notifying parents,” said attorney Eric Baxter from the law firm Becket in a Dec. 5 statement.  

The 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 on 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.

“Parental involvement is crucial for children, especially in elementary school,” Baxter said. “The court should restore notice and opt-outs so parents can parent and kids can be kids.”

William Haun, a senior counsel at Becket and co-counsel in the Montgomery County parents’ case, told CNA that the appeals court seemed open to the parents’ arguments and that he is hopeful the court will restore their right to opt out.

Haun said that the parents are merely advocating for “the same opt-outs that the school board was giving parents all of last school year without incident.”

Though there have been protests and significant pushback against the school board’s rule change, a federal district judge ruled against the parents on Aug. 24, allowing the policy to go into effect at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester.

“What we have are parents who are being forced to decide, ‘Do I have to withdraw my children from public school or on pain of criminal penalties have my children be taught things that violate their religious beliefs?’” Haun said.

“The most troubling thing the parents told us is that they can’t even get a straight answer from their teachers about whether these books will ever be read or when they’ve been read,” he said.

Haun shared the story of one impacted family, the Morrisons, whose 10-year-old daughter has Down syndrome and attention deficit disorder. Even in her specialized courses, the Morrisons’ daughter has had pro-homosexual and transgender materials read to her, which Haun said has been “deeply confusing to her.”

Despite the ruling in August, Haun said the appeals court appeared open to the parents’ arguments and asked “many questions about the amount of discretion that the board has and its policies, the fact that the board allowed opt-outs through all of last year, and then also with regard to the age of the children.” 

According to Haun, homosexual and transgender “pride” storybooks are being read to children in the Montgomery County school district as early as pre-K, to children who are 3 and 4 years old.

“When the board has the discretion to accommodate [religious requests] but refuses to do so, that triggers rigorous judicial review under the free exercise clause, and the board simply has no good response to that rigorous review,” Haun said.

Though this case primarily concerns parents and children in Montgomery County, Maryland, Haun said he believes it also has “tremendous national import.”

“If this is allowed to persist,” he said, “it’s going to send a message nationwide that that long-standing partnership between parents and public schools can be changed in favor of cutting the parents out to pursue an ideological agenda.”

As it stands currently, Haun said that 47 states still require either opt-outs or opt-ins whenever sexuality and gender family issues are being taught to children.

“That is a national consensus that is long-standing in our country,” Haun explained. “Montgomery County goes even further and allows for religious opt-outs to all manner of curriculum: Valentine’s Day, Halloween parties, any kind of reading assignment that offends your religious beliefs. You can work with them to come up with an alternative, but only for these books, for these books only, you won’t even be told when they’re read, and you can’t get an opt-out.”

Haun told CNA that the fact that the 4th Circuit Court expedited the hearing in this case indicates that the judges “see the need for an immediate ruling” and that he expects a ruling in the next couple of months.