On October 30, 2023, the ACLU and ACLU of Maryland filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit supporting the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in its efforts to ensure that its English curriculum is inclusive for LGBTQ+ students.
In 2022, MCPS added storybooks featuring LGBTQ+ characters to its elementary-school English curriculum. Soon thereafter, some parents requested that their children be excused from class when the books were used. Although schools initially accommodated these objections, by March 2023 the growing number of opt-out requests became unmanageable and undermined the schools’ educational obligations toward inclusion, equity, and respect. MCPS informed parents that opt-outs would no longer be permitted in the new school year.
In response, some parents filed a lawsuit against MCPS, claiming the elimination of opt-outs violated their free-speech, free-exercise, and substantive-due-process rights under the U.S. Constitution and Maryland law. They sought a preliminary injunction based on their free-exercise and substantive-due-process claims. The district court denied their motion, holding that the parents could not establish a burden on their religious exercise.
Our amicus brief agrees with the district court’s conclusion that the parents have not established a cognizable burden on their religious exercise. We also argue that even if the parents had established a burden, MCPS’s policy prohibiting opt-outs from the English curriculum is a neutral law of general applicability and subject only to rational-basis review, not strict scrutiny – a test the policy easily satisfies.