A case in which parents sought to overturn an Ohio school district's transgender restroom policy on religious grounds was overturned Monday by a U.S. district court judge.
The plaintiffs claimed Bethel School District's policy, which allows transgender students to use communal restrooms aligned to their gender identities, violated parents' rights to direct the care of their children, to have equal protection under the law, and to freely exercise religion, among other things.
The decision to dismiss the case comes less than a week after a ruling in another key case from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which allowed transgender students in Indiana to access bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities.
The lawsuit brought against Bethel Local School District by Christian and Muslim parents used claims previously made in other transgender rights lawsuits. Suing districts under the First and 14th, for example, has become common practice in such cases.
In July, for example, an LGBTQ+ civil rights organization sued an Idaho school district and the state board of education claiming transgender students' equal protection rights had been violated. In the same month, a Wisconsin district court judge granted a temporary restraining order in a case that was also filed under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
In California, two middle school teachers filed a lawsuit alleging Escondido Union Elementary School District violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and religious exercise when it required them to keep students' decisions to transition gender identities confidential from parents.
However, the Ohio lawsuit also poses new arguments not commonly adopted by parents seeking to prohibit transgender students from using communal facilities. Parents in the lawsuit, for instance, claimed the school district violated the Open Meetings Act when board members allegedly met in an executive session and deliberated over whether transgender students should be able to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identities.
Currently, all 50 states have open meeting laws requiring that public policy meetings be accessible to the media and the public.
In his decision to throw out the Ohio case, U.S. District Judge Michael Newman cited a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — whose jurisdiction includes Ohio — that protected transgender students' access to school facilities aligning with their gender identities under Title IX.
The 3rd, 4th and 9th federal appeals courts have also decided in favor of transgender student rights in recent years.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last week affirmed another made by the 7th Circuit in 2017, when it became one of the first federal appeals courts to rule in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District that Title IX and the 14th Amendment protect transgender students from discrimination at school.
"Litigation over transgender rights is occurring all over the country, and we assume that at some point the Supreme Court will step in with more guidance than it has furnished so far," said Judge James Sweeney in the 7th Circuit's most recent opinion on the issue. "Until then, we will stay the course and follow Whitaker."