Judge rejects Maryland parents’ plea to restore opt-out for LGBTQ books

(The Daily Signal) – A U.S. District Court judge denied Maryland parents’ request Thursday for an order allowing them to opt their children out of instruction using LGBTQ “Pride…

(The Daily Signal) – A U.S. District Court judge denied Maryland parents’ request Thursday for an order allowing them to opt their children out of instruction using LGBTQ “Pride Storybooks.”

Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other parents demanded the right to opt out of an LGBTQ book curriculum for pre-K through fifth grades in Montgomery County Public Schools, a Maryland school district just outside the nation’s capital.

Although Maryland law requires schools to allow parents to opt their children out of “all sexuality instruction” and to provide advance notice for such lessons, the new policy, adopted in March, excluded any opt-out right.

The parents sued, requesting a preliminary injunction to force the Montgomery County school system to restore the opt-out provision until the court fully resolves the case. Classes resume next Monday, so parents had hoped to secure the injunction before that date.

District Judge Deborah Boardman rejected the parents’ motion Thursday, ruling that they “have not shown that [the school district’s] use of the storybooks crosses the line from permissible influence to potentially impermissible indoctrination.”

Boardman, an appointee of President Joe Biden, ruled that Montgomery County Public Schools had not violated parents’ right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment because, under the policy, “teachers will occasionally read one of the handful of books, lead discussions and ask questions about the characters, and respond to questions and comments in ways that encourage tolerance for different views and lifestyles.”

“That is not indoctrination,” the judge wrote.

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, the religious liberty law firm that represents the Montgomery County parents, condemned the judge’s ruling.

“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 told The Daily Signal in a written statement Thursday. “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 school district’s refusal to grant an opt-out right brought together parents from various faith traditions, including atheism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism. Becket says it represents hundreds of parents through the local organization Kids First.

The parents sued the school board May 23, specifically demanding the right to opt their kids out of the LGBTQ storybooks.

“These books are in fact teaching explicit sexual orientation and gender identity issues as early as pre-k,” Will Haun, senior counsel at Becket Law, told The Daily Signal earlier this month. The associated reading instructions, he said, “require teachers to make dismissive statements about a student’s religious beliefs, to shame children who disagree, and to teach as facts things that some would not agree are facts.” 

The Pride Storybooks include selections such as “My Rainbow,” which tells the story of a mother who creates a rainbow-colored wig for a child the book presents as transgender. “Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope” recounts the tale of a biological girl who identifies as a boy and who struggles to convince the world that she is male. “Prince & Knight” and “Love, Violet” tell same-sex romance stories.

During a Montgomery County school board meeting, board member Lynne Harris said, “Because saying that a kindergartener can’t be present when you read a book about a rainbow unicorn because it offends your religious rights or your family values or your core beliefs is just telling that kid, ‘Here’s another reason to hate another person.’”

Harris also insisted that “transgender, LGBTQ individuals are not an ideology, they’re a reality.”

In her ruling, Boardman said the Montgomery County school board’s refusal to allow kids to opt out of such instruction did not represent a violation of parents’ religious freedom to educate their children according to their spiritual duty, because the policy doesn’t forbid parents from instructing their children on these issues after school.

Boardman also cited the school board’s reasons for refusing the opt-out measure: too many students would opt out; teachers would have to track a large number of opt-out requests; and allowing those requests would stigmatize LGBTQ students.

“The school board was concerned that permitting some students to leave the classroom whenever books featuring LGBTQ characters were used would expose students who believe the books represent
them and their families to social stigma and isolation,” Boardman wrote. “The school board believed that would defeat its ‘efforts to ensure a classroom environment that is safe and conducive to learning for all students’ and would risk putting MCPS out of compliance with state and federal nondiscrimination laws.”

Boardman ruled that “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.”

The judge did not note critics’ concerns that transgender ideology, by celebrating individuals who claim they were “born in the wrong body,” creates an incentive for children to adopt a gender identity opposite their biological sex, an identity that encourages the use of experimental medical interventions.