Religious parents in Maryland will appeal to opt kids out of school storybooks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal court has ruled that parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, have no right to be notified when their elementary-school children will be read storybooks that address complex and sensitive issues regarding gender and human sexuality.

Last school year, MCPS–one of the largest public school systems in the nation–incorporated into its pre-K through fifth grade English language arts curriculum a collection of storybooks featuring LGBTQ characters in an effort to reflect the diversity of the school community. Initially, parents could opt their children out of reading and instruction involving the books, as they could with other parts of the curriculum.

Following the announcement, three families of diverse faiths filed suit against the
school board, claiming the no-opt-out policy violates their and their children’s free exercise and
free speech rights under the First Amendment, the parents’ due process rights under
the Fourteenth Amendment and Maryland law.

“Parents know and love their children best; that’s why all kids deserve to have their parents help them understand issues like gender identity and sexuality,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths. “The School Board’s decision to cut parents out of these discissions flies in the face of parental freedom, childhood innocence and basic human decency.”

In August 2023, the court left the mandate in place, putting the case on a fast track to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are expected in the fall in Maryland’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“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,” said Baxter. “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.”

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