Parents in Montgomery County, Maryland have been denied a request to opt their children out of discussing and reading books that include LGBTQ characters. In a 60-page decision, Judge Deborah Boardman denied their claims that the books were coercive and violated their religious freedoms.
The parents had requested to be able to withdraw their children from classrooms whenever books that contained characters from the LGBTQ community were read aloud. They argued that the books forced them to compromise their religious beliefs, or else leave the public school system.
Under the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause, citizens are given the right to practice their religion, so long as it does not violate public morals or a “compelling” government interest.
Judge Boardman noted in her ruling that the parents had failed to demonstrate how the policy of no opt-out would “result in the indoctrination of their children or otherwise coerce their children to violate or change their religious beliefs.”
She also argued that the parents remain free to continue religious instruction and guidance in their faith, even if their children are exposed to ideas that are against their own beliefs.
Some religious parents have expressed disappointment with the ruling, claiming it is a violation of their right to religious freedom. They argue that public schools have their children for most of the day, five days a week, nine months out of the year, while religious parents only get them at night on weekends, and during the summer months.
They point out that the teachers’ authority combined with peer pressure can undermine the religious beliefs of parents and their children. They also indicate that when public schools prefer to focus on topics such as sexual subjects and climate change, instead of core topics like reading, science, and math, it harms the prospects of their children and the student’s ability to compete on a global level.
Despite the ruling, religious parents still have the option of pulling their children out of public schools and looking for alternate options. They can also campaign to have their tax dollars follow their children wherever they go to school.
In one case, former Congresswoman Connie Morella recommended a conservative Christian to be a commencement speaker to a Montgomery County high school, but they weren’t interested in her suggestion.
The ruling has underscored the concern among religious parents that public education is becoming increasingly hostile to their beliefs and values. Despite the disappointment of some parents, it is clear that the policy of no opt-out when it comes to discussing LGBTQ literature in the classroom will remain in place for Montgomery County schools.