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Iowa parents win temporary relief from transgender school policy

Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse. Photo from Facebook

Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 4 to remove the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa from a partial list of groups submitting amicus briefs on behalf of plaintiffs in the case. Instead, the alliance is supporting the defendants.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (BP) — Iowa parents have temporarily blocked a public school policy requiring their children to use the preferred pronouns of their transgender classmates and share bathrooms with them or face expulsion.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Parents Defending Education (PDE) a preliminary injunction Sept. 29 blocking enforcement of the Linn-Mar Community School District’s Administrative Regulations Regarding Transgender and Students Nonconforming to Gender Role Stereotypes policy.

Southern Baptists who filed amicus briefs supporting PDE applauded the injunction, which blocks enforcement of the policy while the court case proceeds.

Challenged is a Linn-Mar school board policy disciplining and even expelling students who don’t acknowledge a transgender student’s new identity by pronouns, bathroom use and other circumstances. The policy would punish offending students for “misgendering” another student by intentionally and persistently refusing to respect a student’s gender identity.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Baptist Convention of Iowa (BCI) are among nearly 75 groups that filed amicus briefs supporting PDE in the lawsuit filed in August 2022.

“Government cannot pave over consciences, particularly in an attempt to muzzle speech it finds disfavorable about biological sex and gender identity,” ERLC President Brent Leatherwood told Baptist Press. “This decision recognizes that principle and ensures parents and students are not forced to abandon biblical convictions underlying their speech and conduct merely because they’re in a public school setting.

“Baptist cooperation made a significant contribution here as we were able to team up with the Baptist Convention of Iowa to speak into this case with one cooperative voice on behalf of our churches.”

BCI Executive Director Tim Lubinus commended the decision.

“The ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court is not only a victory for parents and students but also sends a clear message to school boards that severe limits on parental rights and freedom of speech will not be tolerated,” Lubinus said. “We commend the court’s decision to strike down the Linn-Mar Community School District’s policy that aimed to limit parental rights in their children’s care and potentially restrict certain types of speech.”

While the policy would have allowed LGBTQ students to declare a new gender without their parents’ knowledge – and would have disallowed parents such knowledge even if they asked – that part of the policy has since been outlawed by a July 2023 state law. Because of the new state law, Eighth Circuit judges considered moot the lawsuit’s challenge to the rule.

The PDE lawsuit on behalf of seven sets of parents with students in the school district challenged the policy as a violation of their parental rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution, and their children’s free speech rights under the First Amendment. The school board adopted the policy in April 2022 with a stated intent to “address the needs of transgender students, gender-expansive students, nonbinary, gender nonconforming students, and students questioning their gender to ensure a safe, affirming, and healthy school environment where every student can learn effectively.”

Parents objected and were supported not only by the ERLC and BCI, but dozens of groups including nearly 20 state governments; Jewish, Muslim and Islamic religious groups; Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Project 21 Black Leadership Institute and others.

“Schools are increasingly adopting speech codes regarding gender identity to compel students to affirm beliefs they do not hold and that are incompatible with their deeply held convictions,” parents said in the original complaint. “So-called ‘preferred pronouns policies’ are an increasingly used method of compelling student speech.

“Preferred pronoun policies subject students to formal discipline for referring to other students according to the pronouns that are consistent with their biological sex rather than their gender identity,” parents said. “Under these types of policies, a student who uses ‘he’ or ‘him’ when referring to a biological male who identifies as a female will be punished for ‘misgendering’ that student.

“PDE brings this action to protect parents’ rights to raise their children and students’ rights to freedom of expression.”

With the temporary injunction, PDE seeks a court ruling permanently dismissing the policy on the grounds that it violates students’ First Amendment rights.