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No more keeping parents in the dark

A diverse coalition asks the Supreme Court to protect parental rights at school

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No more keeping parents in the dark
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Despite our country’s divisions, there is a remarkable consensus among Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian families: Religious parents should be allowed to raise their children in keeping with their faith.

Sadly, some government officials in our nation’s public schools disagree—and over 18,000 schools have policies that hide crucial information from parents of students who seek gender transitions.

That’s why a diverse group of faith organizations—the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, the American Hindu Coalition, the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, the Christian Legal Society, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention—filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the U.S. Supreme Court recently, asking the Court to grant review in John and Jane Parents 1 v. Montgomery County Board of Education. In this important parental rights case, parents are asking the Supreme Court to review a faulty ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which concluded parents cannot even challenge the policy keeping secrets from them until their children actually begin gender transitions.

The Free Exercise Clause protects parents’ ability to raise their children in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs, and that applies in public school, too. Yet families from diverse faith backgrounds are deeply concerned that stealthily adopted gender identity policies are violating their religious exercise and parental rights by concealing crucial information from them about their own children.

Parents should not have to wait until their children experience irreversible harm to challenge policies that clearly violate the Constitution. The Fourth Circuit’s ruling brazenly ignored the constitutional problems with school districts keeping significant medical decisions secret from parents—and the fact that hundreds of children in Montgomery County have already begun gender transitions without their parents’ knowledge. Courts commonly allow plaintiffs to challenge policies before they experience harm or their rights are violated—but not here.

This means that Jewish students learning Torah commandments and principles at home are being pressured to reject those values and embrace the radical gender ideology that their teachers and school administrators advocate. Muslim and Hindu families, who may have no viable choice but to send their children to public school, face additional pressure as they are the last to learn that their own children are identifying as a different gender at school.

As policies like these proliferate around the country, it is time for the Supreme Court to step in.

Late last year, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of religious parents and students in Parents Defending Education v. Linn Mar Community School District.

The Eighth Circuit held that while Iowa’s new law addressed the parental rights concerns about hiding children’s gender transitions from their own parents, the school’s policies likely violated the First Amendment. The reason? “[T]he policy was impermissibly vague because it required discipline if a student refused ‘to respect a student’s gender identity,’ without clarifying what that meant.” Thus, a Muslim student who wears a hijab and follows the Quran’s teachings on gender could be singled out for discipline if she voices an objection to sharing a restroom with a biological male in violation of her religious beliefs. The Eighth Circuit recognized that these problems posed a serious First Amendment concern. Thankfully, Iowa students in the Linn Mar district no longer have to fear punishment for speaking about their beliefs—or using pronouns that align with biology and their beliefs.

A California court recently vindicated similar First Amendment concerns in Mirabelli v. West, enjoining the Escondido Union School District’s policy of hiding gender identity decisions from parents because it caused a “trifecta of harm;” removing parental guidance from students, violating parental rights, and violating the First Amendment rights of religious teachers whom it forced to hide gender identity decisions from parents.

As policies like these proliferate around the country, it is time for the Supreme Court to step in. According to Parents Defending Education, there are over 1,000 such policies affecting over 10.7 million school children in over 18,000 schools nationwide. The Court’s review is needed to ensure that school districts follow the Constitution, and to ensure that every family’s religious freedom is protected.

Kayla Toney

Kayla Toney is associate counsel for First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all.

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