In Maryland, a group seeks to have sexually explicit books removed from school libraries and is being portrayed as enemies of speech and enlightenment. Meanwhile, in California, parents believe they should be informed if their child shows signs of gender confusion while at school—an argument with which the state disagrees.
Last week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on explicit content in books made available to students. However, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), the committee’s ranking minority member, said the subject was a waste of the committee’s valuable time and blamed supporters of former President Donald Trump for stirring up things.
“These censorship laws are being enacted by extreme MAGA politicians under the pretext of parental rights, when in reality it’s a coordinated and apparently well-funded vocal minority of parents and conservative organizations pushing their personal agenda on others,” Bonamici said. “I’ll note that this is the U.S. Congress and not a school board meeting.”
Only one witness called before the committee opposed removing such books—which surprised Lindsey Smith, chair of Montgomery County Moms for Liberty. Smith had testified at the House committee hearing.
“You would think that sexual content in a book in a classroom would be a big deal to anybody, but to the Democrats I’m a book-banner,” Smith said on Washington Watch Friday.
“They can literally go down to their public library and find all these books, so it’s not that these books are not accessible to kids. It’s that we don’t want them in an education setting,” Smith continued. “What happened to kids’ innocence here?”
Christian parents and Muslim parents were united in their opposition to the books in demonstrations outside the Montogomery County Public Schools building in June.
Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, also questioned why removing explicit books from school libraries seemed to offend so many people.
“It’s perfectly natural, normal, and responsible for parents to prefer that school districts not stock their libraries with pornographic material,” he said during an interview with The Hill. “And it’s good for school board members to meet the moral preferences of parents.”
In Montgomery County’s case, it’s not just a media library book that people want to talk about. “We apparently have a whole curriculum on it. So, book banning? I would say far from it. I’m just a mom who’s not happy with the stuff being taught right now,” Smith told show host Jody Hice.
Last week, a San Bernardino County superior court judge took the side of privacy for minors over the rights of parents who are raising them. Judge Michael A. Sachs ruled that most parts of the Chino Valley Unified School District’s parental notification policy were unconstitutional. (See sidebar below.)
California parents just want to be informed
|Judge Michael Sachs granted in part and denied in part the state’s application for a preliminary injunction. For example, the state said that the school can continue to notify parents if a child asks to change their official school record, which is Section 1C of the policy.
However, in regard to Sections 1A and 1B – which apply if a student tells a teacher they want to go by a different name or different pronouns or use different restroom facilities or join a different sports tea – the school cannot notify parents about those issues unless a student expressly gives their consent.
“We plan to appeal the preliminary injunction ruling on Section 1A and 1B,” says attorney Emily Rae of Liberty Justice Center, the law firm representing Chino Valley Unified School District. “This is just step one of the litigation; this is a preliminary injunction, and we are not going to back down.”
Rae adds that Liberty Justice Center and Chino Valley Unified School District believe that the law is on their side here.
“Over 100 years of precedent from the Supreme Court saying that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children – that is on our side,” says Rae. “Common sense is on our side, and public opinion is on our side.”
Rae points to a June telephone and online survey by Rasmussen Reports and Real Impact that found a majority of Californians approve of parental notification policies.
“This is a hotly contested issue politically, so people are going to frame it in ways that advance their own agenda,” Rae acknowledges. “But at the heart of this case, it is really very simple: this is about parents having a right to know what is happening with their children.”
The district’s board in July approved a policy that would require school staff to notify parents when a student asked to be identified or treated in a manner with the gender opposite his or her biological sex. The policy also would require parents to be notified if their student sought to participate on sports teams or use designated facilities not consistent with their biological sex.
The policies were never implemented after California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit against the district and was granted a temporary injunction. Sachs’ ruling struck down all those requirements.
Bonta used the latest court ruling as an opportunity to intimidate other school boards.
“Today’s bench ruling is a significant step forward that will set a precedent in our efforts to ensure every student is guaranteed the right to learn and thrive in a school environment that promotes nondiscrimination, safety, and inclusivity,” the AG wrote in a statement.
“Let this decision serve as a stern warning to other school districts that have passed or are contemplating similar policies: enforcing discriminatory practices will not be tolerated in our educational institutions.”
State changes its courtroom strategy
Attorney Laura Powell, who has argued against the state of California in previous litigation, said the ruling showed a shift in tactics by the state.
“An important point is that the judge rejected the state’s arguments that a child has a right to privacy with respect to gender identify vis-à-vis their parents. That was their primary argument a couple of months ago, and now they’ve shifted to discrimination claims,” Powell wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
Chino Valley Board president Sonja Shaw said Bonta “is very adamant that when you drop your kids off at school,” parents rights end. She said surveys show that Californians disagree with Bonta by more than 80 percent.
“This is absolutely insane because at the end of the day parents have a constitutional and fundamental right to the upbringing of their child,” Shaw told Hice. “It’s said that we’re wasting time and taxpayer money to fight us against what we have rights to. Our state and local elected and appointed officials are overstepping their reach.”
Shaw said Sachs’ ruling was disappointing but not surprising.
“Of course, you want those little wins, but I also feel like God’s exposing these things to more and more people on how the government literally is overreaching and deciding when parents have a right and when they don’t. This was just the beginning of the process, so I’m very hopeful [because] in the long haul, we’re going to stay committed, and we are going to continue to fight for parental rights and what is right,” Shaw said.