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ERLC, Iowa Baptist convention urge court to protect parental rights


ST. LOUIS (BP) – A Southern Baptist Convention entity and a Baptist state convention have joined with other organizations in urging a federal appeals court to block a public school district transgender policy they contend prevents the rights of parents to care for their children.

In defense of parental rights, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Baptist Convention of Iowa (BCI) signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday (Nov. 10) with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in St. Louis. The brief asked the appeals court to reverse a federal judge’s ruling and issue an injunction barring enforcement of a policy by a school district in eastern Iowa.

The Eighth Circuit Court has announced it will hear oral arguments in the appeal during the week of Feb. 13-17 in St. Paul, Minn.

The Linn-Mar Community School District – headquartered in Marion, a suburb of Cedar Rapids – instituted a policy in April of this year regarding the treatment of transgender students. In part, the policy bars the district from informing others, including parents, of a student’s transgender status unless he or she provides authorization or it is legally required, such as in the case of national standardized tests.

The brief endorsed by the ERLC and the BCI says the Parental Preclusion Policy, as it describes this section, “permits students and schools to determine the name and pronouns that a student will use at school, to decide the gender of those that the child will sleep with on school trips, to select which restroom and locker room to use at school, and to determine which gender sports teams to join, all without parental notification or consent.”

By concealing the transgender status of students, the school district violates parental rights in two fundamental ways, according to the brief. The policy infringes on the parents’ right to “direct the care and education of their children,” including what school they attend, and infringes on their due process protections.

“God has ordained the family as the fundamental institution of our society,” said Hannah Daniel the ERLC’s policy manager. “Schools should not come between parents and their children, especially in such sensitive and important matters of gender and sexuality.

“Our brief argues that the Parental Preclusion Policy ultimately violates parents’ inherent and due process rights, and it is our hope that the Eighth Circuit will share this view and strike down this harmful policy,” she told Baptist Press in written comments.

Ben Bradley, the BCI’s communications and outreach director, told BP, “We believe parents were given authority and responsibility by God, as seen in scriptures such as Deuteronomy 6. We are fortunate to have our beliefs represented in the public square when we see God-given authority undermined by local governments.

“We are grateful to partner with the ERLC because they give voice to concerns our Iowa church members have,” he said in written remarks.

The organization Parents Defending Education sued the school district on behalf of seven parents, but U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams denied the request for a preliminary injunction that would have prohibited enforcement of the policy.

In his Sept. 20 opinion, Williams ruled the parents “will not suffer irreparable harm” without an injunction. They had presented evidence only of possible harm and were unlikely to succeed on the merits, he said. Williams also said the parents had not sufficiently demonstrated they had been injured and therefore lacked standing. They “will have difficulty showing [the policy] violates their constitutional rights,” he wrote.

The brief joined by the ERLC and BCI said the Parental Preclusion Policy “usurps the parental role.”

“Without a discussion with his or her parents on this sensitive subject, a child very likely will not know the parents’ views, concerns, or thoughts with respect to transgenderism,” according to the brief.

The U.S. Constitution “protects parental interests as fundamental,” the brief said. “This policy’s underlying rationales – that parents do not act in their children’s best interest and schools may trump parental authority when they suspect they might disagree with parental decisions – provide no permissible justification whatsoever.”

The policy presumes parents neglect or abuse their child and thereby violates their right to due process, according to the brief.

“It is parents who are given the primary right to care for their child, not school counselors, teachers, or principals,” the brief said. “[F]undamental parental rights, like other fundamental rights, may only be curtailed or withheld after notice and due process.”

As part of the school district’s policy, a student decides whether a parent is informed of and attends his or her meeting with a school administrator or counselor to receive support and implement a Gender Support Plan.

In addition to the ERLC and the BCI, joining in the brief were six state pro-family organizations – Wisconsin Family Action, Illinois Family Institute, Minnesota Family Council, Delaware Family Policy Council, Hawaii Family Forum, The Family Foundation – and Concerned Women for America, Ethics and Public Policy Center, National Legal Foundation and Pacific Justice Institute.