3 Montgomery County families sue MCPS over LBTQ books
SILVER SPRING, Md. - On Wednesday, attorneys announced three Montgomery County Public Schools families (six parents) are suing the county’s superintendent and school board in the continued battle over LGBTQ books approved as part of MCPS’ updated curriculum.
Eric Baxter with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told FOX 5 the suit was filed in federal court and makes the argument not to pull the books but to provide families with an opt-out option.
"These books can be in the school if that’s what members, you know, citizens of Montgomery County want. But parents who disagree should have the option to let their kids sit out or read a different book rather than be compelled to sit through books that encourage them to change their genders, or think about what it is to be non-binary … or have to focus on romance in 2nd or 3rd grade," Baxter said in a Zoom interview with FOX 5.
The lawsuit is nearly 50 pages long and digs into the details of some of the approved books some parents take issue with.
One example is a book called, "Pride Puppy," which the lawsuit says invites children to look for items they might find at a Pride parade. The words: "underwear," "leather," "[drag] king" and "[drag] queen" are noted in the lawsuit.
The suit states the six parents being represented are Christian or Catholic and Muslim – and all believe the content in the books is both inappropriate and goes against their religion.
Montgomery County Public Schools Spokesperson Jessica Baxter told FOX 5 that MCPS was not made aware of the lawsuit beforehand. She also declined to respond, saying MCPS cannot comment on pending litigation.
FOX 5 did hear school board members speak on the matter back in March when parents began to protest MCPS’ announcement that the school system would not be providing an opt-out option – and that teachers would not have to inform parents of LGBTQ-inclusive books being read either.
"If we could just talk about what this is really about," said MCPS Board Member Lynne Harris at the March 28 business meeting. "You say parents’ rights to pull their students out of lessons when they're going to be reading a book that has an LGBTQ character in it — because of your religious right your family values your core beliefs — but you know Rodgers and Hammerstein got it right seven years ago; you have to be taught to hate."
"You know, no child is born marginalizing, thinking somebody else is not as good as they are because of the way they look or the way they talk or the religion they practice or who they love. And, you know, I am proud of the work that the system is doing and is committed to doing to say, ‘we are going to ensure that every student in our school at every age, can see themselves reflected in the work of their classroom and in the people in the schools that do that work with them,'" Harris continued. "And even if they don't feel safe being who they are at home or in their other community, we're going to create a space that acknowledges the humanity of everybody. Because saying that a kindergartner can't be present when you read a book about a rainbow unicorn, because it offends your religious rights or your family values or your core beliefs is just telling that kid here's another reason to hate another person and we are not going to do that in the school system."
Attorney Eric Baxter responded to Harris’ March 28 comment, saying: "Really, our parents are looking to support a pluralistic society where we can all live side-by-side and despite differences we have on important issues. Our clients agree it’s very important for all children to treat one another with respect and kindness and civility – but that doesn’t mean that we have to force children to change their beliefs or accept things they don’t agree with, and that’s what these books do."
Baxter argues the Constitution and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause provide parents the primary right to raise their children and direct their religious upbringing.
"The government can’t get in the way by trying to force or influence the way the young children think about religion or these really important issues about who they are or how they’re going to live the core aspects of their life, "he added.
Baxter claims the Montgomery County School Board is flaunting these provisions. He also argues MCPS does give an opt-out option on matters involving "family life and human sexuality."
MCPS previously acknowledged this but didn’t appear to include the approved books for the updated curriculum within that consideration.
A previous statement to FOX 5 read: "As is standard practice, when planning for instruction teachers/schools are encouraged to utilize a variety of resources to continue to promote an inclusive environment as outlined in the MCPS Core Values and Board Policy. Students and families may not choose to opt out of engaging with any instructional materials, other than ‘Family Life and Human Sexuality Unit of Instruction’ which is specifically permitted by Maryland law. As such, teachers will not send home letters to inform families when inclusive books are read in the future."
Read the full lawsuit below: