Mahmoud v. McKnight
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an emergency request for an injunction against a large urban school board in Maryland that forces parents to send their pre-K and elementary school children to mandatory instruction that many see as too sexually explicit for such young students. This filing follows Becket’s appeal in this case that has deep implications for parental rights and religious liberty.
Here’s the background: Becket in May had filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Maryland challenging the Montgomery County Board of Education’s decision to no longer notify parents or honor requests to opt-out of sex-ed classes and controversial readings on sexually charged topics. Some parents may be comfortable with this instruction, but many parents are not.
The decision followed the Board’s fall 2022 announcement of over 20 new “inclusivity” books for its pre-K through eighth grade classrooms on sexually charged topics. Maryland law requires parental notification and the ability to opt-out for lessons involving topics that may violate the free exercise of religion and the right of parents to transmit their religious beliefs.
In response, Becket filed a suit representing a diverse coalition of religious parents including Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians. After the district court ruled against the parents in August, the case is on appeal before the federal Fourth Circuit court.
In that appeal to the Fourth Circuit, Becket argues that the Board’s stance is tantamount to saying “that once children enter the classroom, parents lose any right to opt their children out of ideological instruction.”
In its opening brief, Becket now tells the court: “Maryland requires schools to provide notice and opt-outs for any ‘instruction on family life and human sexuality.’ And the Board’s Religious Diversity Guidelines allow opt-outs from any ‘discussions or activities’ that ‘impose a substantial burden on … religious beliefs.’ Indeed, that’s the law not only in Maryland, but also in nearly every state in the Nation.”
This case should be straightforward. The Montgomery County Board of Education is clearly flouting not only state law, but its own guidelines to force students to learn content the school knows many parents will find objectionable.
Even the Board’s own elementary school principals protested that the storybooks are “not [age] appropriate” and that it’s always “problematic to portray elementary school children falling in love with other children, regardless of sexual preferences.” They further warned that the instructional materials are “‘dismissive of religious beliefs” and “seek to ‘shame’ students who disagree.”
Becket objects to the district court’s determination that “exposing the Parents’ children to religiously forbidden instruction imposes no religious burden. The district court reasoned that parents could counter the instruction afterwards, send their kids to private school, or homeschool.” In other words, you can always quit your job to teach your child at home or spend many thousands of dollars on private school tuition.
Protect The 1st is pleased to support Becket’s appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Parents have the right to be notified when controversial sexual content – that interferes with the free exercise of religion – is taught in schools. The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees it, U.S. case law reinforces it, and our nation’s parents demand it.
PT1st looks forward to further developments in this case.