Parker v. Hurley

Parker v. Hurley was a consolidated case that involved two sets of parents who sued the school district of Lexington, Massachusetts on the grounds that their children were exposed to ideas that the parents found repugnant to their religious beliefs. Both claims involved materials designed to promote tolerance of gay and lesbian couples or marriage. The parents claimed that exposing their children to such materials amounted to state-sponsored indoctrination in violation of both their right to free exercise and that of their children. Prior to considering what level of scrutiny to apply to the alleged burden on religious exercise in this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit evaluated whether the exposure of children to ideas inconsistent with their religious faith constituted a burden at all. The court concluded that neither the parents’ right to free exercise nor that of their children was significantly burdened. Regarding the parents’ free exercise rights, the court found that a child’s occasional exposure to concepts offensive to a parent's religious belief would not inhibit the parent from instructing the child differently. As for the children’s rights, the court concluded that the books provided by the school did not burden free exercise because there is no right to be free from any reference to the existence of gay or lesbian families; the court characterized the classroom lessons as designed to promote tolerance, and not indoctrination. Because neither the parents’ nor the children’s rights to free exercise were significantly burdened in any way, the court rejected the parents’ claims.

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