First Liberty Institute and True North Legal have joined forces on behalf of six Somali-American families in the St. Louis Park Public School District who object to “sexual content” taught in elementary classes.
“True North Legal exists to protect the religious freedom of Minnesota families,” said Renee Carlson, chief counsel of True North Legal. “Partnering with First Liberty, we’re ensuring that these families in St. Louis Park have their constitutional rights protected. We hope this will be a wake-up call for school districts in Minnesota. Ensuring the religious freedom of students and their families is paramount, and infringing upon that right is unacceptable.”
According to a press release from the two firms, the families were previously denied the option of opting their children out of LGBTQ-themed content and still don’t receive advance notice of when these topics are discussed.
“Diversity and inclusion must extend to religious families, too,” said Kayla Toney, associate counsel at First Liberty. “We are urging the district to follow state law and its own policy that allows parents to opt their children out of controversial subjects. State and federal laws are clear — the school is required to fully accommodate our clients.”
The law firms assert the district’s previous denial of opt-out requests was a violation of the First Amendment and state law.
“After First Liberty’s last letter, the District created a complicated procedure where parents can request alternative learning instruction, but the District has yet to provide advance notice of when these topics will be covered in class,” the press release said.
In a new letter to the district, the groups explained how this new procedure still fails to meet the district’s legal obligations.
“(1) the District fails to provide advance notice or an opportunity to review curriculum or other materials before our clients’ children are exposed to it; (2) the District requires parents to describe their reasons for opting out, adding burdensome prerequisites inconsistent with a proper interpretation of the text and intent of [state law]; and (3) the Procedure invites and requires government scrutiny of religious beliefs,” the letter says.
Fatuma Irshat is a Somali mother of three who said she came to America because of its promise of religious freedom.
“We believe that we have a sacred obligation to teach the principles of our faith to our children without being undermined by the schools. We came to America because of its rich heritage of protecting religious liberty and the opportunity to raise our children in a place where they have access to success. We’re hopeful that the district will grant us a full accommodation,” she said.
According to the press release, in October 2023, the third- and fourth-grade children of the Muslim families informed their parents about the introduction of books with LGBTQ characters and themes in their English classes.
The readings were allegedly accompanied by teachers’ commentary about LGBTQ identity, “causing significant confusion and distress” among the families. Although requests to opt out were made, their requests were denied, according to First Liberty Institute. Some of the Muslim parents then spoke out at a school board meeting where they were scolded by a board member for their lack of “solidarity” with the LGBTQ community.
“Our primary concern is that our children are encountering material that is sexualized and not age-appropriate within the school environment,” one of the parents said at that meeting.
The letter sent by the attorneys emphasizes: “To comply with Minnesota law, the District must provide parents with notice before sexualized topics will be covered in class, the opportunity to review this curriculum to determine if it is consistent with a parent’s religious beliefs, and the ability to excuse their children from this curriculum.”
“The six clients we represent are not the only parents in St. Louis Park concerned about their children being exposed to teaching about LGBTQ+ sexuality without their knowledge or consent. An entire community, including members of other faiths and cultural backgrounds, are looking to our clients for leadership on this issue,” the letter concludes.