Hundreds of protesters rallied to protest a school board in one of America’s most liberal counties that plans to mandate the teaching of books they brand “sexualized” to public-school children as young as three years old in public schools.
The rally-goers, almost all of whom were first-generation Americans or immigrants themselves, demanded that Montgomery County Public Schools restore their ability to opt out of a curriculum they say violates their First Amendment rights.
One of the “children’s” books in the required curriculum urges three-year-olds to find words like “intersex [flag],” “[drag] queen,” “leather” and “underwear” in a word list, according to a lawsuit filed by the Becket Fund, which is representing Muslim and Christian parents in the wealthy Maryland suburban county.
Throughout the rally, speakers emphasized their concerns go beyond partisanship and are non-denominational. The Board of Education meeting itself that they were protesting was de facto closed to the public; a handful of speakers who were pre-approved were allowed in, but almost all attendees were not permitted to enter the Board of Education building. When I presented myself as a member of the media and asked if I could observe, I too was denied access.
These actions could open Montgomery County up to legal action. Ian Prior, a senior advisor for America First Legal, told me that MCPS “almost assuredly violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act by denying residents the ability to attend last night’s meeting. Even worse, they may have also violated the First Amendment rights of Montgomery County residents, as it seems abundantly clear that they were denied access to that meeting based on their viewpoint.”
Outside the meeting, even a thunderstorm couldn’t stop the protesters, many of whom took off work to rally for over four hours. Attendees carried home-made signs that read “education over indoctrination,” “I don’t co-parent my kids with the gov,” “force feeding ideology to citizens is un-American” and “I risked my life to give birth to my babies, let me raise them.”
Protesters leveraged a sprawling network of social media groups, along with churches and mosques, to encourage others to attend the event. Imam Haji, one of over a dozen religious leaders in attendance, told me that he is there both as “an imam…but also I’m a parent.”
“They want to pick up our kids and try to change them. It’s not right.” For him, working with Jews, Christians, and atheists is reminiscent of how the Prophet Mohammed operated. “That’s all we’re doing, we are just following in the footsteps of our prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him.”
Tagmawi, another attendee who has lived in the county for over twenty years, observed that the crowd is “a bunch of immigrants — we left our birthplace, we left the countries that we love and came to America because there’s freedom here, because we’re able to exercise our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech. With this kind of lawlessness, all of that is being ripped away.”
“The school system is just focused on social agendas and actually not on educating my children,” he continued. “We’ve slipped on a lot of different stages, so Montgomery County has gotten a lot worse in the last twenty years.”
Not everyone agreed with the protesters, however. The Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County issued a scathing release attacking the “outside extremist groups” they feared would be at the rally, comments reminiscent of how Montgomery Council member Kristin Mink recently compared Muslim protesters concerned with parental rights to white supremacists.
The multicultural protesters were also greeted by an entirely white group of counter-protesters that numbered no more than fifteen; at one point, the diverse crowd outnumbered those opposed to the curriculum opt out by at least fifty to one.
While the Board of Education is yet to decide on whether it will restore the opt-in, rally-goers made it clear that they will be back every meeting until their religious liberties are respected.
Osman, a Sudanese immigrant whose grandchildren are in MCPS, called the day’s organizing “the tip of the iceberg.”
“This is something that American society, the Congress, the government, should take note of our presence,” Osman said. He claimed the several hundred people who gathered there represent “maybe 50,000 more.”
In the same way that the parental rebellion in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia, presaged a gubernatorial win for Republican Glenn Youngkin, many from around the country took notice of the protest, including Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign.
“Why is a public school allowed to teach that doctrine but parents who want to raise their kids in their own faith traditions cannot object to it?” DeSantis’s rapid response director, Christina Pushaw, tweeted. “I have been saying that gender ideology in schools is fundamentally a religious liberty issue, and it’s good to see so many people of different faiths coming together to defend their constitutional rights.”