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Baptist groups supporting ‘God-given rights of parents’

A courtroom in the Everett M. Dirksen Courthouse in Chicago, Illinois. Library of Congress photo.

CHICAGO (BP)—A Southern Baptist Convention entity and a Baptist state convention have joined other organizations in defending before a federal appeals court the rights of Wisconsin parents challenging a school system’s transgender policy.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention (MWBC) signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed Monday (May 8) that urged the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to rule parents have legal standing to contest the guidance of the Eau Claire (Wis.) Area School District. The policy permits staff to conceal from parents their child is identifying at school as a gender different than his or her biological sex.

The brief marks the third time in 14 months the ERLC has joined with a Baptist state convention and other organizations to support parents challenging a school’s guidelines regarding students who identify as transgender. Among the commission’s allies on those friend-of-the-court briefs were the Baptist Convention of Iowa (BCI) in one case and the MWBC in the other.

“There is no room for the state to come between a parent and a child in matters related to education,” said Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s policy manager. “This is especially so when it comes to issues of sexuality and gender. Yet, in recent years, we have learned about some school districts seeking to conceal information from parents related to their children.“

In the most recent case, the ERLC was “pleased to partner” with the MWBC in a brief affirming “the God-given rights of parents and pushing back on harmful gender ideology policies in schools that go against God’s perfect design for human flourishing,” Daniel told Baptist Press in written comments.

“No matter what children are facing, they deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion as ones made in the image of God. School administrators should partner with parents to do this, not pit their children against them.”

In the previous briefs:

— The ERLC and MWBC partnered in March 2022 with 11 other organizations in support of parents challenging a school policy that enables staff to withhold from parents a child’s decision to identify as a different gender. The case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court is Doe v. Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District.

— In November 2022, the ERLC and the BCI joined 10 other groups to request the Seventh Circuit Court overrule a lower court and block enforcement of a suburban Cedar Rapids (Iowa) school district’s guidance that allows officials to conceal a student’s transgender status from his or her parents. The case is Parents Defending Education v. Linn-Mar Community School District.

The Eau Claire school policy includes no requirement that staff notify parents of a student’s change in gender identity or in use of a different name. Instead, it calls for school personnel to talk to a student “before discussing a student’s gender nonconformity or transgender status with” a parent or guardian. Some students who identify as different than their biological sex “are not ‘open’ at home for reasons that may include safety concerns or lack of acceptance,” according to the guidance.

Some parents of students in the Eau Claire schools formed an association, Parents Protecting Our Children, and brought suit calling for a federal court to block enforcement of the policy. The parents said the guidance violates their constitutionally protected rights to care for their children and to exercise their religion, as well as the right under federal law to opt out of certain public school activities.

Federal Judge Stephen Crocker ruled, however, in February the parents did not have legal standing. The parents’ injuries under the policy are speculative since they cannot say for sure their children are transitioning to a different gender identity under the school’s supervision, he said.

The brief signed onto by the ERLC and MWBC, however, contends the injuries already exist.

In order to gain legal standing, the school district and federal court theorize the parents “would have to know that the school had already secretly prepared a transitioning plan for their child, i.e., they would have to find out that they had already been subjected to the constitutional deprivation of which they complain before they could complain of it,” the brief said. “That makes no sense, and it is not the law. The Constitution does not require someone targeted by adverse government action to wait to sue until the threatened harm has occurred.”

According to the brief, “Parents are not restricted to bringing suit after the fact when they discover information and actions that have been unconstitutionally kept from them, perhaps with distressing results for their child.

“The school district does not recognize the parents’ constitutionally protected rights in this regard, instead indulging in the presumptions, as a matter of policy, that it is always best for a child, no matter how young, to transition if the child expresses an interest in doing so and that this justifies keeping it secret from the child’s parents if the child and school believe the parents might disagree.”

In addition to the ERLC and the MWBC, joining in the brief were five state pro-family organizations – Wisconsin Family Action, Illinois Family Institute, The Family Foundation, Hawaii Family Forum, Nebraska Family Alliance – and Concerned Women for America, National Legal Foundation and Pacific Justice Institute.

The case is Parents Protecting Our Children v. Eau Claire Area School District.