Maryland’s largest public school system was sued Wednesday by parents who want their children excused from instruction with books that have LGBTQ+ themes, saying the “forced inculcation” violates their rights to freely exercise their religion and direct their children’s religious upbringing.
The books promote one-sided ideology and introduce issues concerning family life and sexuality that are age-inappropriate and are inconsistent with their religious beliefs and child-raising philosophies, plaintiffs Tamer Mahmoud and Enas Barakat, Jeff and Svitlana Roman, and Chris and Melissa Persak allege.
They sued Montgomery County School Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight, the Montgomery County Board of Education, and individual board members in the US District Court for the District of Maryland.
The school system said it can’t comment on pending litigation.
In October 2022, the school board announced it had approved a selection of more than 22 texts with LGBTQ+ themes for use in the classroom, according to the complaint.
The books include “Pride Puppy,” approved for children in pre-K and Head Start programs, which tells a story of two women taking their children to a pride parade, where their puppy gets lost, the complaint says.
A word search in “Pride Puppy” encourages children to search for images including the “intersex [flag],” a “[drag] king,” “leather,” a “lip ring,” a “[drag] queen,” and “underwear,” the complaint alleges.
Books for first through fifth graders include “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding"—a story meant to validate same-sex marriage in the eyes of a small child, the complaint says.
The various books “promote political ideologies about family life and human sexuality that are inconsistent with sound science, common sense, and the well-being of children,” the complaint says.
Not Excused From Inclusive Material
The board initially confirmed that parents had the right to be notified about the books and request alternate instructional material for their children, the plaintiffs say. But it reversed that position in March, according to the complaint. The board announced that although parents still may remove their children from “family life and human sexuality” curriculum, they may not be excused from instruction with the inclusive materials, plaintiffs say.
This policy infringes on their First Amendment speech and religious rights and 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. It also violates their rights under the Maryland Constitution, the plaintiffs say.
They want an injunction blocking the board from requiring their children —and other students whose parents object—to read, listen to, or discuss the books. They also want the board to provide advance notice when the materials will be used.
The lawsuit coincides with an increase in school book bans, which have emerged as a political and cultural flashpoint. PEN America documented 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 titles, during the first half of the 2022-2023 school year. That’s an increase of 28% between January 2022 and June 2022, PEN America, a group devoted to free expression, said.
Other lawsuits have been filed against school systems and public libraries for banning or restricting books, primarily those addressing issues of gender identity and racism. Last week, PEN America and others sued the Escambia County, Fla., school system.
James C. Mehigan of Reston, Va., and The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represent the plaintiffs.
The case is Mahmoud v. McKnight, D. Md., No. 8:23-cv-01380, complaint 5/24/23.
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