Some parents in Montgomery County, Md., have religious objections to their children being exposed to any stories that include LGBTQ+ characters or themes. They’re demanding that they be able to “opt-out” their children from such material. A federal court has rightly ruled that the public school system doesn’t have to tailor its curriculum to comply with specific religious beliefs.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Deborah L. Boardman ruled that the parents have no right to demand an opt-out for their children as the case proceeds. The parents argued that allowing their children to be exposed to such material violates the families’ religious freedom.
Boardman was not persuaded. The judge noted that mere exposure to the stories did not take away the parents’ rights to instruct their children in religion. She wrote, “The parents are not pressured into violating their religious beliefs in order to obtain the benefits of a public education,” and she signaled that the parents’ claims of a religious freedom violation are not likely to succeed.
Books with LGBTQ+ characters targeted
The legal challenge, brought by a coalition of conservative Muslim and Christian parents, targets books that are not mandated for use in any classroom, although teachers have the option to use them if they choose.
Public schools have an obligation to be sensitive to the needs of all students and their families, but sometimes parents’ demands go too far and, if implemented, would make the public school curriculum mirror certain religious beliefs.
Some religious groups believe women should not work outside the home. Should their children be shielded from books that contain stories of women in the workplace? Many fundamentalist Christians object to evolution. Should they have the right to demand that their children be taught nothing about it in science class?
Teaching about the world as it is
The job of public education is to teach children about the world as it is, the world they are growing up in, the world they interact with daily. That world contains LGBTQ+ people. It’s simply not the job of public education to buttress a religious view that such people do not or should not exist or that there’s something wrong with them.
After the ruling, the Montgomery County Public Schools issued a statement that vowed to “continue to adhere to our responsibility to include instructional materials that reflect the diversity of the local and global community by exploring the aspirations, issues, and achievements of women and men, people with disabilities, people from diverse racial, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, as well as those of diverse gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.”
Some people would like to pretend that world does not exist. But it does – and our public schools do students no favors by bowing to religious pressure and pretending otherwise.