Officials at a prestigious public magnet school in Illinois have been warned that state law forbids them from requiring a student to go through a “gender and sexuality” program to graduate if it violates the student’s religious beliefs.
First Liberty Institute issued the warning to officials at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, or IMSA, in Aurora, Illinois. The institute is representing Phillip and Christine McBride and their daughter, Marcail.
“The McBrides have repeatedly communicated that participating in the program violates Marcail’s religious beliefs, yet the school continues to pressure Marcail, demanding that she complete the program or face punishment,” stated the letter.
“We demand that you follow the requirements under state law and grant Marcail’s request not to participate.”
The letter, delivered Tuesday, demands a response by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
IMSA says its gender and sexuality program 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.”
The McBrides asked that their daughter be exempted from the requirement because of a conflict with her religious beliefs, but schools officials refused.
“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 Keisha Russell, counsel to First Liberty Institute. “Schools should never violate the religious conscience of their students. We hope [school] President [Jose] Torres ends the school administrators’ clearly unlawful behavior and protects the religious liberty of every student by granting an accommodation to the family.”
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.”
However, Dana Ginnett, a student affairs officer, 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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