A federal court just took a sledgehammer to parental rights

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on Wednesday in a case arising from Montgomery County, Maryland, that will have broad and devastating implications for parental rights.

In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel ruled that parents who send their children to school in the Maryland county are not entitled to a religious exemption allowing them to opt their children out of certain lessons involving LGBT content. The majority was written by a George W. Bush-appointed judge who was joined by a Biden appointee. An appointee of former President Donald Trump dissented in the case.

The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of parents of various faith backgrounds who objected to a series of LGBT storybooks in elementary school classrooms. The school district had granted an opt-out for such lessons but withdrew it in 2023. After a district court ruled against the parents, an appeal was brought to the 4th Circuit, which affirmed the lower court ruling.

In the majority opinion, the court said the parents had failed to provide a sufficient body of evidence to indicate that their children would be subjected to indoctrination that would run contrary to their religious beliefs.

“We understand the Parents’ contention that the Storybooks could be used in ways that would confuse or mislead children and, in particular, that discussions relating to their contents could be used to indoctrinate their children into espousing views that are contrary to their religious faith,” the court said. “But none of that is verified by the limited record that is before us.”

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is already vowing to appeal the court’s ruling.

“The court just told thousands of Maryland parents they have no say in what their children are taught in public schools,” said Eric Baxter, the organization’s vice president and senior counsel. “That runs contrary to the First Amendment, Maryland law, the School Board’s own policies, and basic human decency. Parents should have the right to receive notice and opt their children out of classroom material that violates their faith. We will appeal this ruling.”

The implications of this ruling are dire. Montgomery County Public Schools has explicitly stated that parental rights do not extend to the classroom, even if the classroom instruction violates the religious beliefs of the family. Effectively, the teacher has replaced the parent as the child’s primary educator.


Public schools are funded with public dollars and are therefore subject to the First Amendment’s protections for the free exercise of religion, a right that includes the ability to raise one’s children according to the tenets of one’s faith.

By siding with the school district, the 4th Circuit panel has spit on this right and raised serious questions about what rights, if any, parents have over their children when they attend public school. The next court that hears this case must reverse this intolerant ruling as soon as possible.

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