Press Release

Religious parents ask federal appeals court to allow individual opt-outs from storybook mandate Muslims, Jews & Christians in Maryland ask Fourth Circuit to protect parental rights

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Protestors at the Mahmoud v. McKnight district court rally, holding signs that say "Keep the Opt-Out" and "Let Parents Parent"

WASHINGTON – A diverse group of religious parents in Maryland asked a federal appeals court yesterday for the ability to opt their children out of storybooks that push one-sided ideology regarding gender and sexuality. In Mahmoud v. McKnight, the Montgomery County Board of Education took away parental notice and opt-outs for storybooks that advocate pride parades, gender transitioning, and pronoun preferences for kids as young as pre-kindergarten. After a lower court upheld the storybook mandate, these Muslim, Christian, and Jewish parents are asking the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to restore their ability to raise their children consistent with their faith. 

The new “inclusivity” books were announced last fall for students in pre-K through eighth grade. However, instead of focusing on basic principles of respect and kindness, the books champion controversial ideology around gender and sexuality. For example, one book tasks three and four-year-olds to search for images from a word list that includes “intersex flag,” “drag queen,” “underwear,” “leather,” and the name of a celebrated LGBTQ activist and sex worker. Another book advocates a child-knows-best approach to gender transitioning, telling students that a decision to transition doesn’t have to “make sense”; teachers are instructed to say doctors only “guess” when identifying a newborn’s sex anyway. The School Board revoked notice and opt-outs for these storybooks earlier this year, contrary to Maryland law and the Board’s policies, and over the objection of their own elementary school principals. 

“The Board forged ahead with its storybook mandate over the concerns of thousands of parents and its own principals,” said Grace Morrison, board member of Kids First, an association of parents and teachers advocating for notice and opt-outs in Montgomery County Schools. “But the School Board does not replace parents, who know best about how and when to introduce their elementary-age children to complex and sensitive issues around gender and sexuality.”  

Soon after the School Board announced it would take away parental notice and opt-outs for the storybooks, a diverse coalition of religious parents, including Muslims, Jews, and Christians, sued the School Board in federal court. Despite faith differences, these parents believe the new storybooks are age-inappropriate, spiritually and emotionally damaging for kids and inconsistent with their beliefs. Last week, a federal district court judge ruled against the parents, writing that notice and opt-outs to the books are “not a fundamental right.” In the opinion, the judge even dismissed the claims of a religious couple whose daughter’s disabilities make it impossible for them to teach her their beliefs after the storybooks have been read to her. Today, the coalition of parents asked the Fourth Circuit to immediately restore their ability to help their own children on such complex issues and put a stop to the School Board’s no notice, no opt-out policy.  

“Children deserve the guidance of their parents when learning about complex issues around gender and sexuality,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “That’s why we are asking the Fourth Circuit to step in to protect the right of parents to guide their children’s education consistent with their religious beliefs.” 

A preliminary decision on the Parents’ motion for an injunction pending appeal is anticipated early this fall.  

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.Interviews can be arranged in English, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.