Officials at a prestigious public magnet school in Illinois have abruptly reversed course after being told a state law forbids them from demanding a student go through a “gender and sexuality” course to graduate if it violates the student’s faith.
Officials in the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois, now are offering an alternative course for Marcail McBride, the daughter of Phillip and Christine McBride.
The announcement came from First Liberty Institute, which had written to school officials about the legality of the requirement after the officials refused to respond to concerns from parents.
“We are grateful to President Torres and school officials at IMSA for following the law by granting our client an accommodation,” said Keisha Russell, counsel to First Liberty Institute. “Schools should respect the religious beliefs of their students. Marcail and her parents are pleased that she will not be punished for acting according to her conscience.”
IMSA said its “Student Gender and Sexuality” program, which is was required for graduation, is designed to make students “experience discomfort.”
The institute described the program in its letter.
“Students participating in the program use sexual language to identify sexual preferences and gender identity,” First Liberty said. “In identifying the ‘stages of allyship,’ the program classifies anyone who believes homosexuality is sinful or immoral as being in the same category as those who are repulsed by it or think it is ‘crazy.’ The program offers students the opportunity to become an ‘ally,’ recording the students who agree and rewarding them for their affirmation with a SafeZone sticker and pin. The program thus does not respect differing religious beliefs about gender and sexuality and pressures students to affirmatively signal their agreement with the curriculum.”
First Liberty pointed out the requirement was in conflict with the law.
“Under Illinois law, schools must provide religious accommodations for their students, and they must also honor requests to excuse students from programs with sexual content,” said Russell. “Schools should never violate the religious conscience of their students.”
The Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, First Liberty lawyers argue, requires IMSA to refrain from placing a substantial burden on the religious exercise of its students. Additionally, Illinois law allows the McBrides to opt out of any sexual education program.
The law states, “No pupil shall be required to take or participate in any class or course in comprehensive sex education if his parent or guardian submits written objection thereto, and refusal to take or participate in such course or program shall not be reason for suspension or expulsion of such pupil.”
Dana Ginnett, a student affairs officer, had demanded that Marcail complete the program by Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. or face disciplinary action.
First Liberty said: “To justify her threat, Ms. Ginnett cited an IMSA policy which states, ‘In addition to academic classes, students are expected to attend all required assemblies and meetings of a non-academic nature … If a student does not attend required meetings and assemblies (and does not have an excused absence approved by a Student Affairs staff member), disciplinary action will be taken.’”
The institute pointed out that state law “guarantees that the state will not discriminate against any resident on the basis of religion.”
That means a school cannot require an individual “to act contrary to her religious beliefs to avoid facing penalties.”
Further, state law requires schools to give students an option to not take sexual education.
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