U.S. appeals court denies parents' right to opt K-5 children out of LGBTQ classes

Parents argue exposure to LGBTQ-themed material violates religious beliefs, but the court says it's part of the compromise parents have to make when partaking in public education.

U.S. appeals court denies parents' right to opt K-5 children out of LGBTQ classes
AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File
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In a 2-1 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction that would have allowed parents to opt their K-5 children out of classes and books discussing LGBTQ topics in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Maryland's largest school district.

The parents, representing Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths, argued that the exposure to LGBTQ-themed books and related discussions contradicts their religious duty to educate their children according to their beliefs on  "what it means to be male and female; the institution of marriage; human sexuality; and related themes," per Fox News

The court majority, however, ruled that mere exposure to ideas contrary to one's faith does not significantly burden First Amendment rights and is part of the compromise parents make when choosing public education. U.S. Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee, a Bush appointee, wrote that the parents' broad claims, the high burden required for a preliminary injunction, and the limited record constrained the court to affirm the district court's order.

"We take no view on whether the Parents will be able to present evidence sufficient to support any of their various theories once they have the opportunity to develop a record as to the circumstances surrounding the Board’s decision and how the challenged texts are actually being used in schools," wrote the judge. "At this early stage, however, given the Parents’ broad claims, the very high burden required to obtain a preliminary injunction, and the scant record before us, we are constrained to affirm the district court’s order denying a preliminary injunction."

In a dissenting opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum, Jr., whom Trump appointed, argued that the parents had shown the board's decision burdened their right to exercise their religion and direct their children's religious upbringing. He believed the parents had established the requirements for a preliminary injunction.

"The parents have shown the board’s decision to deny religious opt-outs burdened these parents’ right to exercise their religion and direct the religious upbringing of their children by putting them to the choice of either compromising their religious beliefs or foregoing a public education for their children," Quattlebaum stated.

Eric Baxter, a senior counsel and vice president at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty representing the parents, expressed disappointment with the decision and plans to appeal the ruling. He argues that the themes are inappropriate for young children and that the court's decision contradicts the First Amendment, Maryland law, the School Board's policies, and basic human decency.

"They involve issues around sexuality that are simply too mature for such young children," Baxter said

MCPS announced efforts to include an LGBTQ-inclusive reading list as part of its English language arts curriculum in 2022, sparking several rallies pushing for reinstatement of the opt-out policy.

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