Education /

Religious Families Sue Maryland School District for Exposing Children to Sexual Content with Pride Storybooks

'Children are entitled to guidance from their own parents, who know and love them best,' said a lawyer representing three families

An Islamic religious group has filed a lawsuit against a Maryland school district for exposing children to content about human sexuality without notifying parents or permitting caregivers to opt out of the lessons.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the lawsuit on behalf of parents whose children attend Montgomery County Public Schools. The plaintiffs allege that the schools “introduce[d] pre-K and elementary school kids to certain books (the “Pride Storybooks”) that promote one-sided transgender ideology, encourage gender transitioning, and focus excessively on romantic infatuation—with no parental notification or opportunity to opt out.”

According to the filing, the parents are from multiple religious denominations of both Islam and Christianity. 

“They are united in the conviction that the Pride Storybooks are age inappropriate and inconsistent with their religious beliefs and practices and their child-raising philosophies,” states the lawsuit, which was filed on May 24.

One example of material given to young students included in the filing is the book Pride Puppy by Robin Stevenson and Julie McLaughlin. The book, created for children ages 3 to 4, includes a “search and find word list” instructing children to look for the “intersex [flag],” a “[drag] king” and “[drag] queen,” “leather,” and “underwear.”

Another book, called Love Violet, encourages fourth-grade students to “talk about our feelings with someone that we don’t just ‘like’ but we ‘like like,’” according to the teachers’ guide.

Fifth-grade students in the school district were given Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope, which “advocates [for] a child-knows-best approach to gender transitioning, telling students that a decision to transition doesn’t have to ‘make sense’ and that students are the best ‘teacher’ on such matters, not parents or other adults,” per the lawsuit. 

While parents were forewarned about the books and allowed to opt their students out of the lessons during the current school year, the same warnings will not be provided next year. The plaintiff and the CAIR contend the school district will be in violation of its “own written policies” as well as a state law that “lets parents opt their children out from instruction on ‘family life and human sexuality.’”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations petitioned the superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools and the School Board, requesting a reversal of its decision not to allow “opting-out of classroom discussions on sexually-themed reading material” in Pre-K through 12th-grade classrooms and its decision to direct schools “not to notify parents about when such content will be presented.”

“By introducing sexually-themed lessons and materials as part of the school curriculum without advance parental notice, an opt-out option or another reasonable religious accommodation, MCPS is violating the rights of families and guardians, and undermining Maryland state law,” wrote CAIR in a statement. “Families and guardians entrust their children to the school system with the expectation that these rights are respected and recognized. Schools should respect their authority by restoring the option to opt their children out of reading sexually-themed content or participating in sexually-themed lesson and discussions, without any adverse consequences.”

The three families involved in the lawsuit each gave a brief explanation of their religious beliefs and the ways in which the material distributed by the school districts violates their convictions. 

One family stated they believe “the Pride Storybooks go far beyond teaching kindness and respect (as a matter of manners or virtuous citizenship).”

Per filing:

Rather, the Pride Storybooks are being used to impose an ideological view of family life and sexuality that characterizes any divergent beliefs as “hurtful.”

The Pride Storybooks also promote political ideologies about family life and human sexuality that are inconsistent with sound science, common sense, and the well-being of children.

The Parents believe it is spiritually, mentally, and physically injurious to introduce children prematurely to many of the topics introduced by the Pride Storybooks.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to uphold their right under the First Amendment to opt their children out of lessons on family life and human sexuality. They have also asked for a preliminary injunction that prevents the School Board from forcing students “to read, listen to, or discuss the School Board’s Pride Storybooks” despite objection from parents and to be granted liminal damages. 

“Children are entitled to guidance from their own parents, who know and love them best, regarding how they’ll be introduced to complex issues concerning gender identity, transgenderism, and human sexuality,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at the nonprofit law firm Becket, which is representing the families.

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