Federal Court Upholds School's Right to Teach about Homosexuality

Lexington, MA

On February 23, 2007, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by parents who objected to discussions of same-sex families in their children’s public school classrooms. The U.S. District Court rejected the parents’ claim that the Lexington School District violated their constitutional right to teach their own morals to their children, upholding the school’s right to teach about families with same-sex parents.1

In his decision, Chief Judge Mark Wolf said that public schools are “entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy.”2

The suit stems from an incident in April 2005, when a kindergartener at Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts brought home a “diversity book bag” that had been handed out in class.3  Among other things, the bag contained Who’s in a Family, a book that discusses many types of families including those with same-sex parents.4  The student’s parents objected to the content of the book; when the school district would not relent, the student’s father refused to leave the school in protest and was arrested for trespassing.  The couple then sued the school district.

They are joined in their suit by another couple, whose child was read a fairy tale titled King and King in his first grade classroom.  In that book, a prince falls in love with another prince and decides to marry him rather than to wed a princess.5

The school district contended in court that the books promoted tolerance and respect. Lawyers for the district cited a 1993 state law that directed schools to teach about diverse families and the harm of prejudice.6  The district superintendent argued, “As much as we try to be sensitive to the parents’ views, they don’t have a veto over what we teach in the schools.”7

Chief Judge Wolf found in favor of the school system, ruling that the parents did not have a Constitutional right to control public school curriculum.  He explained in his decision: “Parents do have a fundamental right to raise their children.  However, the [parents in this case] have chosen to send their children to the Lexington public schools with its current curriculum.  The Constitution does not permit them to prescribe what those children will be taught.”8

Judge Wolf cited a 1995 ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals as the basis for his decision.  In that case, the Court held that parent’s constitutional right to raise their children did not include the right to restrict what a public school can teach, even if that curriculum conflicts with parent’s religious beliefs.9

A lawyer for the parents said that they will appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court.10


  1. Associated Press, “Federal Court Mulls Classroom Gay Subject Matter,” 365gay.com, 7 February 2007, accessed 8 February 2007, <http://365gay.com/Newscon07/02/020707school.htm>.
  2. Jonathan Saltzman, “Same Sex Teaching Upheld,” Boston Globe,  24 February 2007, accessed 26 February 2007, <www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/02/24/same_sex_teaching_upheld/>.
  3. Associated Press, “Massachusetts: Gay Topics and Schools,” The New York Times, 24 February 2007, accessed 26 February 2007, <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/24/education/24brfs-gay.html>.
  4. Jonathan Saltzman, “Same Sex Teaching Upheld,” Boston Globe, 24 February 2007, accessed 26 February 2007, <www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/02/24/same_sex_teaching_upheld/>.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.

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