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Maryland Parents Can’t Block School LGBTQ Lesson Attendance Rule

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Maryland’s largest public school system doesn’t have to allow parents to excuse their kids from classroom lessons involving LGBTQ-themed books while the families’ constitutional challenge proceeds, a divided federal appeals court said Wednesday.

The parents haven’t shown they’re likely to succeed on their arguments that the Montgomery County school system’s attendance requirements violates their religious freedom, free speech, and due process rights, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said. The appeals court upheld the denial of a preliminary injunction earlier this year by Judge Deborah L. Boardman of the US District Court for the District of Maryland.

In the 2022-23 school year, Montgomery County added more than 22 books with LGBTQ+ themes to its language arts curriculum for use in the classroom. The county initially notified parents when the books would be discussed and allowed them to have their kids excused, but it later reversed that position.

Tamer Mahmoud and others sued, saying the mandatory attendance policy violated their rights to direct their children’s religious upbringing.

But the parents haven’t presented an “evidentiary link showing that the Storybooks are being implemented in a way that directly or indirectly coerces the Parents or their children to believe or act contrary to their religious faith,” Judge G. Steven Agee wrote for the Fourth Circuit majority. US Supreme Court precedent doesn’t support the argument that mere “exposure to views contrary to one’s own religious beliefs necessarily constitutes a cognizable burden” on the free exercise of religion, he added.

Judge DeAndrea Gist Benjamin joined the majority.

Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. dissented. “The board’s refusal to grant the parents’ requests for religious opt-outs to instruction with the books the board required be used to promote diversity and inclusivity to the LGBTQ+ community forces the parents to make a choice—either adhere to their faith or receive a free public education for their children,” and forcing that type of choice burdens the free exercise of religion, he said.

Moreover, “other religious optout requests are still allowed; just not for those opposed to the content of the texts,” indicating the decision wasn’t neutral or generally applicable and triggering a heightened level of court scrutiny, he added.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents the plaintiffs. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP represents the Montgomery County School District.

The case is Mahmoud v. McKnight, 4th Cir., No. 23-01890, 5/15/24.


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