October 17, 2023
On October 17, the Ethics and Public Policy Center filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Mahmoud v. Montgomery County (MD) Board of Education. This case was brought by parents of children enrolled in Montgomery County Public Schools after the School Board denied parents’ request to opt their children out of the Board’s new sexuality and gender curriculum.
The brief, co-authored by EPPC fellows Eric Kniffin and Mary Rice Hasson, argues that the district court improperly downplayed the conflict between the curriculum and their religious exercise. It shows that the curriculum does more than teach “diversity” and “inclusion”: it advances gender ideology. Drawing on the work of EPPC’s Person & Identity Project, the brief shows that gender ideology is fundamentally incompatible with Christian anthropology and Catholic teaching:
The Board’s curriculum teaches impressionable elementary school children—those young enough to be read from a picture book—that they should call a boy a girl, or a girl a boy, if that is what the child desires. This moral command must be followed even if it “doesn’t make sense,” because “[n]ot everything needs to make sense. This is about love.”
As shown above, Catholic teaching on these matters is diametrically opposed to the beliefs that the Board aims to ingrain in the Plaintiffs-Appellants’ children. The Catholic Church teaches that “to love is to will the good of the other,” and that one does not will the good of the other by affirming or cooperating in something one knows to be harmful and false. Contrary to Board members’ claims and to what its curriculum teaches, these religious convictions are neither hateful nor xenophobic. They reflect deeply held religious convictions about the truth of the human person.
The Board is not just promoting inclusion and diversity. It is endeavoring to teach as true an ideological belief system about what it means to be human—beliefs that the Catholic Church has from the beginning taught are wrong and dangerous. The Board has claimed, and the court below agreed, that a government school may deny Parents an opportunity to opt their children out of this gender ideology curriculum. This regime puts Catholic parents in Montgomery County to a Hobson’s choice: They must either let the local public system instruct their children that what their parents and church teach about men and women are false, and that their parents and pastor deserve to be treated like white supremacists and xenophobes, or else withdraw their children and find an alternative schooling option that will not demonize their convictions. That is not right. The First Amendment demands more.