RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A faith-based conservative group filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Virginia’s new state guidelines on the treatment of transgender students in public schools, alleging the policies violate parental child-rearing rights and student rights to freely exercise their religion.

The lawsuit filed by The Family Foundation of Virginia, the Founding Freedoms Law Center and a parent from Hanover County asks the court to send the model policies back to the state Department of Education for revision.

The suit alleges the department failed to adequately respond during a public comment period to complaints that the policies violate the constitutional rights of students, teachers and parents. The policies address prevention and response to bullying and harassment of transgender students and participation in school activities.

The policies state that “access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity shall be available to all students.” They also say transgender students may use pronouns reflective of their gender identity, and that failure to speak a student’s preferred pronouns could be considered harassment and discrimination.

“We maintain our concerns that these guidelines erase basic parental rights and protection of bodily privacy and safety rights for even our youngest students,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation and the Founding Freedoms Law Center, the foundation’s legal arm.

“The constitution of Virginia ensures that the fundamental right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs does not simply get erased simply because the state of Virginia chooses to dismiss those rights to fulfill its own ideological agenda,” Cobb said at a news conference.

The lawsuit does not address whether transgender girls should be allowed to compete on girls’ sports teams in public high schools, a topic of controversy elsewhere in the country. An Associated Press investigation found that legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ teams, but in nearly every case, sponsors could not site a single instance where such participation has caused problems.

In Virginia, the model policies developed by the Department of Education do not address sports participation because high school sports are controlled by the Virginia High School League. The league’s rules allow transgender student athletes to play on teams different from their biological gender, but consistent with the student’s gender identity under certain circumstances. The rules require documentation affirming the student’s “consistent gender identity and expression.” The student’s school principal must also provide a statement that says the expression of the student’s gender identity is “bona fide and not for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage in competitive athletics.”

Meanwhile on Friday a 6th Circuit of Appeals ruling may have an effect on the Virginia lawsuit.  When Shawnee University in Portsmouth Ohio instituted a policy that required professors and staff to use a pronoun of choice for each student in their classroom.  Philosophy professor  Nicholas Merriweather, who had taught at Shawnee for 25 years objected due to a conflict with his religious beliefs and in 2018 was formally disciplined by the school.

Merriweather sued Shawnee and in a ruling Friday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court verdict dismissing the case and sending the case back to lower court where Merrweather is expected to argue that his First Amendment rights of free speech and religion and his 14th amendment right to due process were violated.

 

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