Muslim and Christian parents have sued the Montgomery County Board of Education to allow them to opt their children out of mandatory LGBTQ storybooks and lessons, saying they promote an “extreme ideology” on gender and sexuality.
The federal lawsuit asks the court to immediately block the “no notice, no opt-out” standard slated to go into effect for the 2023-24 academic year, a policy announced in March after the district approved 22 “LGBTQ+ inclusive texts” for grades pre-K through 8 designed to promote “inclusivity.”
The books include “Pride Puppy” by Robin Stevenson, which “invites three- and four-year-olds to look for images of things they might find at a pride parade, including an ‘intersex [flag],’ a ‘[drag] king’ and ‘[drag] queen,’ ‘leather,’ ‘underwear,’ and an image of a celebrated LGBTQ activist and sex worker, ‘Marsha P. Johnson,’” the lawsuit states.
“[A]fter mandating new books that advocate pride parades, gender transitioning, and pronoun preferences for kids, the Board announced it would no longer follow the law: parental notice will not be provided, and opt-outs will not be tolerated,” Becket, a religious-freedom legal institute, said Wednesday in a press release.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Maryland on behalf of six Montgomery County parents: Tamer Mahmoud and Enas Barakat, Jeff and Svitlana Roman, and Chris and Melissa Persak.
“Despite faith differences, these parents believe the new storybooks are age-inappropriate, spiritually and emotionally damaging for kids and inconsistent with their religious beliefs and sound science,” the Becket release states. “The lawsuit seeks to restore their ability to help their own children on such complex and sensitive issues.”
An MCPS spokesperson said the district cannot comment on pending litigation.
The legal action comes with families increasingly pushing back as public schools move to introduce LGBTQ themes, sometimes without parental notification, as well as assist children who want to identify as the opposite sex by hiding their new names and pronouns from their parents.
Montgomery County Public Schools, the largest school district in Maryland, announced in October that it had approved at least 22 “LGBTQ+ inclusive texts” without changing the opt-out option. In March, however, the district said teachers would be expected to use the “inclusive lessons and texts with all students.”
“Students and families may not choose to opt out of engaging with any instructional materials, other than ‘Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit of Instruction,’ which is specifically permitted by Maryland law,” said the MCPS notice. “As such, teachers will not send home letters to inform families when inclusive books are read in the future.”
The lawsuit argued that the school board’s “recent about-face strips away this long-standing protection of parental rights.”
“This violates not just Maryland law and Board policy and practice but also the United States Constitution,” said the motion. “Specifically, the First Amendment’s Religion and Free Speech Clauses and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause guarantee the parental right to opt children out of classroom instruction on such sensitive religious and ideological issues.”
Montgomery County has stood behind its “no opt-out” decision despite pushback from Muslim-rights advocates, who met earlier this month with district officials, as well as parents who urged the board to keep the opt-out at a March 28 board meeting.
At the meeting, board member Lynne Harris said the opt-out sends a hateful message.
“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,’” Ms. Harris said, according to the lawsuit.
The “Pride Storybooks” are about more than rainbow uniforms, said the filing, going beyond teaching kindness and respect by promoting “an ideological view of family life and sexuality that characterizes any divergent beliefs as ‘hurtful.’”
For example, “Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope” by Jodie Patterson, which is approved for fifth graders, shows a mother telling her daughter who wants to be a boy that “today you’re my teacher.”
The book “advocates a child-knows-best approach to gender transitioning, telling students that a decision to transition doesn’t have to ‘make sense’ and that students are the best ‘teacher’ on such matters, not parents or other adults,” the complaint said.
“Children are entitled to guidance from their own parents, who know and love them best, regarding how they’ll be introduced to complex issues concerning gender identity, transgenderism, and human sexuality,” said Eric Baxter, Becket vice president and senior counsel. “Forced, ideological discussions during story hour won’t cut it, and excluding parents will only hinder, not help inclusivity.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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