RFI Champions Rights of Muslim and Christian Parents, Files Amicus Brief in Fourth Circuit

September 8, 2023

RFI continues to support the religious and parental rights of Muslim and Christian parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, with a friend of the court brief filed in a federal appeals court. The parents, represented in this case by the Becket Fund, are appealing a lower court’s rejection of their challenge to a school board decision to mandate instruction in “sexual orientation and gender identity” that violates their religious convictions. Eighteen states and a distinguished group of leading religious liberty legal scholars also filed briefs supporting these parents.

For the 2023 school year, the Montgomery County Board of Education (MCBOE) introduced storybooks into its language arts program intended to teach children that people can change their sex and that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are normal and good. 

Maryland state law permits parents to exempt their children from sex education classes, but MCBOE argues that this right to “opt out” does not apply to the storybooks because they have woven them into the language arts curriculum. A group of Muslim and Christian parents sued in federal district court, arguing that MCBOE is violating their constitutional rights to religious freedom and to direct the upbringing of their children. 

The court denied the parents’ motion for temporary restraining order, holding that parents have no right to exempt their children from lessons in “sexual orientation and gender identity.” The parents appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

In its brief, RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team joined the Coalition of Virtue and two Orthodox Jewish organizations to argue that the religious law of both Muslims and Jews commands parents to dictate the religious and moral instruction of their children. The brief asserts that MCBOE’s new storybooks initiative raises issues surrounding family life and human sexuality, and encourages students to question their sexuality and “gender identity.” 

RFI’s brief argues that since these matters are often infused with religious significance, the school board’s decision is unacceptable and must be reversed. The decision denies parents notice of when the new books will be used and refuses to accommodate religious parents in their reasonable opt-out requests. Such a denial is a clear burden on the parents’ obligation to educate their children in accordance with their religious convictions.

Leading religious freedom legal scholars, among them RFI collaborator Richard Garnett of the University of Notre Dame, filed a brief showing how the MCBOE policy is neither neutral nor generally applicable towards religion. The brief further demonstrates the religious burden on parents, which the lower court disregarded. Eric Kniffin and Mary Rice Hasson (Vice-Chair of RFI’s Board of Directors) also filed a brief on behalf of the Ethics & Public Policy Center showing that the MCBOE’s curriculum promotes a “radical worldview” that is “fundamentally incompatible” with a Christian view of the human person. Imposing this curriculum without any recourse for parents violates the religious and parental rights of parents who share that anthropology.   

Oral argument in the case is expected to be held later this month.

As we’ve written about here, RFI has been working on the ground for months in Montgomery County to support Muslim and Christian parents in their fight for religious liberty and parental rights.