ASHLAND, Ky. — Students have no religious or free-speech right to opt-out of school training aimed at stopping anti-gay harassment in Boyd County schools, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge David Bunning said "there is simply no basis for an opt-out" because the training does not endorse any viewpoint or require students to disavow their religious beliefs. Three students had skipped the mandatory sessions at Boyd County schools.
Bunning wrote in an opinion issued Feb. 17 that mandatory training "to address the issue of harassment at school, including harassment based upon actual or perceived sexual orientation, is rationally related to a legitimate educational goal, namely to maintain a safe environment."
The anti-gay harassment sessions were part of a settlement in 2004 of a three-year dispute between the school district and a now-defunct gay-rights group that wanted recognition as an extracurricular group.
To settle the case, the school district agreed to hold mandatory anti-gay harassment sessions for school administrators and students.
A student and two sets of parents sued the Boyd County Board of Education over that requirement, which penalized students with an unexcused absence if they did not attend the training.
The student, Timothy Allen Morrison II, his parents, Timothy and Mary Morrison, and two other parents, Brian Nolen and Debora Jones, were represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based legal foundation that takes on religious-rights cases.
The group claims the training violates Morrison's right to follow his religious beliefs because it prohibits him from telling gays that those who engage in destructive lifestyles, like homosexuality, are wrong.
The American Civil Liberties Union joined the case on behalf of the school district in an effort to keep the training classes in place.
"Just telling students not to pick on others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity doesn't force them to change their beliefs, and the judge agreed with us about that," said Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney with the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.