As a new school year kicks into gear, a Biden-appointed federal judge is using the legal equivalent of grade inflation to prop up the misguided efforts of a local school board to indoctrinate students with gender ideology. On Aug. 24, the U.S. District Court judge denied a requested injunction from a group of Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox parents to opt their children out of LGBT storybook lessons, exposing the judge’s grave misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s religious freedom jurisprudence.
A stone’s throw from Washington, D.C., Montgomery County Public Schools is one of the largest public school systems in the country, with roughly 70,000 students attending elementary school. Last fall, the Montgomery County Board of Education announced it was adopting a collection of more than 20 “LGBTQ+ inclusive” books for use in pre-K through eighth-grade classrooms.
The collection calls for pre-K students ages 3-5 to read Pride Puppy!, the story of two women who take their children to a “Pride Day” parade. A word list using the letters of the alphabet to show what a child might see includes the words “leather,” “underwear,” and “[drag] queen.”
Fifth graders — typically 10- and 11-year-old children — will read Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope, about an elementary school-aged girl who tells her mother, “I don’t feel like a boy. I AM a boy.” Her mother agrees to tell their family “that we know … You are a boy.” But when Penelope’s brother protests, “You can’t become a boy. You have to be born one,” he’s told that “not everything needs to make sense. This is about love.”
Other books include What are Your Words?, a story about a child “figuring out” “their” pronouns, and Intersection Allies: We Make Room For All, a book that offers leftist definitions for “sex,” “gender,” and “transgender” as well as asks readers what pronouns “fit them best.”
When parents initially raised objections to the books, the school board said they could opt their children out of instruction involving the books, as parents can for other parts of the curriculum. By the spring, however, the school board announced parents would not only no longer be notified in advance when the books would be read, they also couldn’t opt their children out of instruction involving the books.
Three families, representing various faith traditions with children enrolled in schools run by the county, sued. They object to having their children exposed to principles concerning sex and identity that contravene their religious beliefs. They argue the school board’s “no-opt-out” policy violates their and their children’s free exercise and free speech under the Constitution’s First Amendment and the parents’ substantive due process rights under the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit asks for a preliminary injunction to restore the rights of parents to opt their children out of reading and discussing the books.
Biden-appointed Judge Deborah Boardman denied the requested injunction, just days after oral argument. “[T]he plaintiffs have not shown that the no-opt-out policy likely will result in the indoctrination of their children,” she wrote. But what about the parents’ rights to direct the religious upbringing of the children? Boardman’s take is that “[e]ven if their children’s exposure to religiously offensive ideas makes the parents’ efforts less likely to succeed, that does not amount to a government-imposed burden on their religious exercise.”
Perhaps the most bizarre part of Boardman’s opinion is her opinion that “the plaintiffs’ asserted due process right to direct their children’s upbringing by opting out of a public-school curriculum that conflicts with their religious views is not a fundamental right.” Professor Helen Alvaré of the George Mason University Scalia School of Law would beg to differ. In a recent law review article, she explains that teaching on “familial relations” is part and parcel of instilling and transmitting the faith itself — and anything that interferes with it interferes with the liberty and free exercise rights of parents.
Under long-standing Supreme Court precedent, government schools are not “empowered … to ‘save’ a child from himself or his [religious] parents” by imposing “compulsory” education to “influence … the religious future of the child.” In fact, the court recently reaffirmed as an “enduring American tradition,” the “rights of parents to direct the religious upbringing of their children.” Boardman’s attempts to distinguish these cases borders on the ridiculous.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of drivel we can expect of Biden’s judicial appointees.
While failing to appreciate basic truths of our Constitution, Judge Boardman did get one thing in her opinion correct when she noted that “[t]he Fourth Circuit has not addressed the question of when a mandatory public-school curriculum might burden the religious exercise of students or parents.” This is promising as the parents pushing back against Montgomery County School Board’s attempt to indoctrinate their young students have announced they will be appealing her decision.
Parents of Montgomery County, Maryland, are bravely pushing back against indoctrination in our nation’s schools. Let’s hope the Fourth Circuit will join them and stop the madness.