Minnesota School District Allows Muslim Families to Opt-Out of “Gender Identity” and Sexuality Curriculum

February 14, 2024, St. Louis Park, Minn. – The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is pleased to announce that the St. Louis Park, Minn. school district has reversed course and decided to allow parents to opt their children out of “gender identity” and sexuality curriculum that it has incorporated into its elementary school English classes. RFI has been working for months with a group of key partners to equip parents there to demand this vital change. 

Last fall, Somali American parents in St. Louis Park contacted RFI’s Ismail Royer for help after their children reported to them that their teachers had introduced inappropriately-themed books in their reading class. 

Worse, school officials refused to accommodate the parents’ requests to remove their children from class when those books were taught. An elementary school principal even told one mother that her children could not opt out because they “need” to be taught about “gender identity” and sexuality. 

Royer helped the parents to navigate the situation, explaining how this curriculum violated their parental rights and their religious freedom. He also introduced them to parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, whom RFI has been supporting in a similar battle, so they could offer their insight, solidarity, and encouragement. 

In collaboration with the Coalition of Virtue and Family Rights for Religious Freedom, Royer encouraged the parents to speak out about their case at an October 2023 school board meeting, and helped prepare them to testify. 

At the hearing, a number of the parents testified about their religious objections, as faithful Muslims, to the curriculum. While most of the school board members listened respectfully, one member, Sarah Davis, expressed outrage, saying, “I expect solidarity” from Muslims because the “queer community” has supported the “marginalized Muslim community.” When one parent tried to address these comments, Ms. Davis protested, “I am not going to engage.”

In response to the parents’ testimony and two demand letters from their attorneys, the St. Louis Park school board has now agreed to allow parents to opt their children out of the instruction. 

“This is the outcome we were seeking on behalf of these families,” said Ismail Royer, Director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team. “While the sexual content of this curriculum should not be in any elementary school classroom, when it does make its way in, the children of parents with religious objections must be provided alternative instruction that does not undermine their constitutionally protected parental and free exercise rights.”

One of the mothers involved, Fatuma Irshat, offered the following statement:

A few months ago our third and fourth graders came home from school and told us they were reading and discussing books that promote lifestyles inconsistent with our faith. We are troubled by the way these books are being presented to our children when they are so young. This learning at school directly conflicts with our deeply held religious beliefs and is causing confusion to our children. We asked to opt-out our children, which is required by state law for parents to be able to opt-out anything they object to. The district said no, even though they know it violates our faith.

At this point we felt defeated and hopeless. We just wanted the school system to respect our faith and how we want to raise our children. I never expected a situation like this where our children’s school would undermine our freedom to raise our children according to our faith.

Then I reached out to a local parent advocate for help. He said he knows who can help us with this situation and connected us to Ismail Royer. Ismail immediately got into action by meeting with the concerned parents, learned more, assessed the situation, and determined that we needed legal resources in order to resolve the issue. 

Ismail then connected us to an attorney and offered ongoing advocacy and support from RFI as needed. The attorney representing us is doing great work and making sure our religious liberty is protected. This experience has provided a sense of hope and comfort. It made me realize there are people and organizations that deeply care about religious freedom. I am forever grateful for their service and support.

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Nathan Berkeley