October 2023 Church & State Magazine - October 2023

Court rejects Md. parents’ demand for ‘opt-out’ from LGBTQ+ books


A federal judge dealt a setback to a group of parents in Montgomery County, Md., who have religious objections to their children being exposed to any stories that include LGBTQ+ characters or themes. 

The parents are demanding that they be able to “opt out” their children from such material, an approach that would be impracticable.

In late August, U.S. District Judge Deborah L. Boardman ruled that the parents have no right to demand an opt-out as the case proceeds. The parents had argued that allowing their children to be exposed to such material violates the families’ religious freedom, but 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. 

“The parents are not pressured into violating their religious beliefs in order to obtain the benefits of a public education,” Boardman wrote. She also signaled that the parents’ claims of a religious-freedom violation are not likely to succeed. 

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.

Americans United notes that 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, for example, believe women should not work outside the home, but that doesn’t mean public schools can’t use books that contain stories of women in the workplace. In addition, many fundamentalist Christians object to evolution, but public schools still teach it in science classes. 

After the ruling, the Montgomery County Public Schools issued a statement saying that the system will “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.”

On its “Wall of Separation” blog, AU observed, “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.” (Mahmoud v. McKnight)

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