Americans United in late October submitted comments to officials in Virginia advising them that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom shouldn’t be used to justify policies that discriminate against transgender students.
In September, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and the Virginia Department of Education released model policies that would harm transgender and nonbinary young people in schools. The model policies misuse the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom as justification to erase trans and nonbinary youth from the classroom, creating a hostile and potentially dangerous school environment.
AU explained that the policies actually violate the First Amendment for two reasons. First, they function as a blanket religious exemption that would impose real harm on trans and nonbinary students. But laws and policies cannot use religious beliefs to harm others – especially kids. And second, they would insert one religious viewpoint regarding trans and nonbinary people into school policies – even though the Constitution bars the government from tailoring policies to align with religious beliefs.
Writing on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, State Policy Counsel Nik Nartowicz observed, “Tragically, transgender and nonbinary youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. But when transgender and nonbinary youth have adults and peers that accept their gender identity, it’s associated with significantly lower odds of attempting suicide. So it was good news when, in 2020, the Virginia legislature passed a law to create a new model policy for public school districts to maintain a safe and supportive learning environment for trans and nonbinary students. And in 2021, the state Department of Education released model policies to do just that.”
Youngkin, however, has proposed replacing the 2021 policies, undoing that progress and causing real harm to transgender and nonbinary students.