The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review several education cases, including the appeal of two Massachusetts families of a lower court decision that a school district did not violate their rights by exposing children to books promoting tolerance for gay marriage and families led by same-sex couples.
The case was one of hundreds the justices refused to review on the first formal day of their new term.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston, had ruled unanimously in January that the Lexington, Mass., school system did not violate the rights of the parents or children by exposing them to books that they found objectionable on religious grounds.
One family objected to their child being presented in kindergarten and 1st grade with two books that portrayed diverse families, including families with same-sex parents. The other family objected to a 2nd grade teacher’s reading to their son’s class a book that celebrated gay marriage.
The families challenged the school system’s refusal to provide them with prior notice of such lessons and to allow their children to be exempted from them until 7th grade. Their suit cited their First Amendment free exercise of religion rights and their parental and privacy rights under the 14th Amendment’s due-process clause.
In a lengthy Jan. 31 opinion, the 1st Circuit panel said, “There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations.”
Regarding the student who heard a reading on gay marriage, the court said there was no evidence the school system had sought to indoctrinate the boy on the issue or require him “to affirm gay marriage.”
“Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas,” the court said.
In their appeal, the parents said their rights to direct the upbringing of their children, as the Supreme Court interpreted them in two 1920s-era cases, “preclude a public school from egregiously usurping the parental role in religious and moral matters of the utmost importance.”
The justices declined without comment to hear the appeal in Parker v. Hurley (Case No. 07-1368), and their action is not a ruling on the merits of the case.
Other School Cases Denied
Also on Oct. 6, the justices denied review in these cases:
Lowery v. Euverard (No. 07-1567), an appeal on behalf of four high school football players in Tennessee who claimed their First Amendment free speech rights were violated when they were dismissed from their team after complaining publicly about the behavior of their coach.
Manbeck v. Katonah-Lewisboro School District (No. 08-116), in which a New York state parent was challenging the annual cutoff for eligibility for entering kindergarten. The state says children must have reached age 5 by Dec. 1, while the child in this case turned 5 on Dec. 11, 2005.
Policastro v. Kontogiannis (No. 07-1341), in which a New Jersey teacher was appealing rulings that denied him access to teacher mailboxes at his high school to distribute a memo related to labor negotiations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled in January to uphold school officials’ actions in removing the teacher’s memo because “of the perceived disturbance it caused.”
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.