Lawyers for Becket argued that the policy infringes upon parental rights and religious freedom that are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Maryland law, and even the board’s own policies. The lawyers are asking the court to halt the policy and restore the opt-out before children go back to school on Aug. 28.
“Our society depends on people being able to disagree civilly,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, told CNA after finishing the three-hour hearing with the court.
Baxter said if the school district is trying to promote inclusivity, “you don’t do that by pushing ideological conformity” on parents and students. He said if students are told their religious beliefs are hurtful, they will “feel like the system doesn’t protect them” and encouraged the school district to “simply respect the diversity of opinion that exists on these issues.”
He said many of the questions from the judge related to “whether the parents’ religious beliefs were really burdened” and noted that courts have ruled in favor of a parents’ religious rights in less egregious burdens than this.
The coursework that the parents found objectionable includes reading material geared toward students as young as 3 or 4 years old.
This includes a book called “Pride Puppy!”, which introduces preschoolers and kindergarteners to words like “drag queen,” “leather,” and “zipper” and discusses Marsha B. Johnson, who was a drag queen, a gay rights activist, and temporarily a prostitute. The story follows a young child who is searching for a lost dog at a pride parade and seeks to teach children the alphabet through homosexual and transgender themes.
Baxter said religious parents are seeking to opt their children out of instruction related to this book because it is “introducing children to things that are much more of an adult nature.”
He referenced another book for young children that discusses a child who wants to change genders and includes comments about a mother scolding the child’s brother for not acknowledging the transition, saying: “Doctors only guess what your sex is when you’re born.”
Another book Baxter referenced discusses “falling in love with another child on the playground.” He said the coursework also includes literature at the second-grade level discussing “issues concerning sexuality.”
Baxter argued that the parents he represents do not want their young children engaging in coursework that is “talking about intimate things such as romance on the playgrounds, questioning their pronouns, [and] what it means to be cisgender or transgender.” He said the promotion of these topics is “contrary to [their] religious beliefs” and “causes them to question the religious instruction they’re getting at home.”
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CNA reached out to the school district for comment but did not receive a statement by the time of publication.
Immigrant parents rally to cause
Dozens of parents from various religious faiths rallied outside the courthouse to support the effort to reinstate the opt-out for parents.
“Immigrants with diverse faith backgrounds and diverse heritages came to the rally, asking for the very thing that many of them came to the United States for — religious freedom,” a spokesperson for Moms for Liberty of Montgomery County, which was involved in the rally, told CNA.
“This is what our Constitution offers,” the spokesperson said. “In a pluralistic society, we need to love and respect all others, but we don’t have to share their morality. [The lawyers’ request] would temporarily restore the right of parents to opt out of LGBTQIA+ curriculum that directly undermines their faith tradition. We are hoping today that our voices will finally be heard.”
Parental rights groups have been regularly engaging with the school board and holding rallies in support of restoring the opt-out.