Judge rules against religious parents stopping kids hearing LGBTQ+ storybooks

Religious protestors are demanding the right to pull their kids from lessons where books with LGBTQ+ characters are read aloud.

A federal judge has denied a request for parents to be able to pull their children out of the classroom when books with LGBTQ+ characters are read aloud.

In May, several Muslim, Jewish and Christian families sued Montgomery County Public Schools, a school district in the state of Maryland. 

The Washington Post reported that the lawsuit alleged that the use of LGBTQ+ storybooks forces religious parents to either compromise on their beliefs or take their kids out of the public school system. 

In Maryland, students are allowed to opt out of certain lessons — specifically the family life and human sexuality curriculum. The parents argued that some elementary-level books introduce similar topics, and so they should be eligible to opt-out of readings.

However, they failed to convince Judge Deborah Boardman of the US District Court for Maryland in Greenbelt.

Judge Boardman ruled that the parents failed to show that schools not having an opt-out policy would “result in the indoctrination of their children or otherwise coerce their children to violate or change their religious beliefs”.

You may like to watch

She added that with or without the right to opt out, “parents remain free to pursue their sacred obligations to instruct their children in their faiths”.

“Even 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,” Boardman said.

The books that parents didn’t want their kids to hear – which weren’t mandatory reading in every classroom – include Love, Violet, a story about a girl who develops a crush on her classmate, and My Rainbow, the tale of a mom who makes a colourful wig for her transgender daughter. 

The school district has already categorised the books as age and developmentally-appropriate, and disallowed parents from pulling their kids from lessons where the books are read back in March.

However, parents from the group Family Right for Religious Freedom gathered outside the Montgomery Count Board of Education in June, demanding to be able to opt-out of their kids being read books that feature LGBTQ characters.

Following Boardman’s decision, the school said in a statement that it “remains committed to cultivating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment and creating opportunities where all students see themselves and their families in curriculum materials.”

Eric Baxter, an attorney representing the religious parents, called Judge Boardman’s decision “wrong on multiple levels,” and said he plans to appeal it. 

Book bans sweep US schools and libraries

Judge Boardman’s ruling is a small win amid a growing censorship movement attacking LGBTQ+ books in the US, while authors warn that book bans are “actively harming” children.

Calls to ban books hit a record high in 2022, while a report by PEN America found that four out of 10 books that are banned in US schools include LGBTQ+ content.

The report found that more than 1,600 books were banned in over 5,000 schools over the last school year, with 41 per cent of the banned books targeted due to their LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

In August alone, Alice Oseman’s beloved graphic novel series Heartstopper has been removed from the teen section of a Mississippi public library because a group of parents claimed the books were “pornographic”, and the local library of a Washington town is under threat of permanent closure because it stocks a book about trans people.