An Illinois high school senior faces a disciplinary hearing this week after she refused to participate in the school’s Student Gender and Sexuality Program because it would violate her religious beliefs.
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, Illinois, requires that all their students complete the program in order to graduate. According to the school’s “Safe Zone Facilitator Guide,” students must agree to both “stay engaged” and “experience discomfort” while participating in the program. The program also rewards those who affirm the LGBTQ community and want to serve as an “ally” with a special sticker and pin.
Marcail McBride asked the school for a religious accommodation allowing her to forego the class, but IMSA officials told her she would need to complete the program by Jan. 30 or risk disciplinary action.
When McBride failed to do so, Dana Ginnett, the school’s associate director of Student Affairs, informed McBride through email that a disciplinary hearing would be held to determine her punishment.
Yet according to attorneys with First Liberty Institute, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires IMSA to “refrain from placing a substantial burden on the religious exercise of its students.” By forcing McBride to participate in the Student Gender and Sexuality Program to avoid penalties, the school has placed a substantial burden on McBride and is thus breaking the law, they argue.
Additionally, Illinois’ Public Act 094-0933 allows McBride to opt out of any sexual education program without threat of reprisal.
“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,” the law says.
Yesterday, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to José Torres, president of IMSA, on behalf of McBride and her parents. The letter instructed school officials to cancel the disciplinary hearing and immediately approve McBride’s religious accommodation.
“Schools should never violate the religious conscience of their students,” said Keisha Russell, counsel with First Liberty Institute. “We hope President Torres ends the school administrators’ clearly unlawful behavior and protects the religious liberty of every student by granting an accommodation to the family.”