A new Indiana law’s provision barring teachers from providing instruction on “human sexuality” to students from pre-K through the third grade is unconstitutional and so vaguely written that teachers wouldn’t know whether they are complying with it, a federal lawsuit filed Friday argues.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana’s lawsuit targets a portion of a new law that also requires schools to notify a parent if a student requests a name or pronoun change at school, but it does not challenge the pronoun and name change notification provision.
Republican lawmakers approved the law this year during a session that targeted LGBTQ+ people in the state. It is due to take effect July 1 after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law in May.
The ACLU’s lawsuit names Indiana’s secretary of education, Katie Jenner, as the defendant and seeks an injunction preventing the “human sexuality” instruction provision from taking effect July 1.
The office of Attorney General Todd Rokita issued a statement saying it “will review the lawsuit and defend what the duly elected legislators find to be the appropriate age for sexuality discussions with Indiana’s elementary school students.”
The suit contends that by prohibiting Indiana teachers from providing “human sexuality” instruction to students from pre-K through third grade, it violates their First Amendment rights.
Because the law defines neither “instruction” nor “human sexuality,” the complaint also contends, those terms “are impossibly vague and lack any ascertainable standards for determining whether or not the law has been violated.”
Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, said it “is written so broadly that it would be next to impossible for teachers to determine what they can and cannot say to students.”
“In addition, teachers have a First Amendment right to express themselves as private citizens outside of the classroom, including in the school’s hallways, playground, or before and after school, but the vagueness of this law would certainly have a chilling effect on those rights,” Falk added in a news release.
The suit also contends that the provision violates the due process clause under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It was filed on behalf of a teacher with Indianapolis Public Schools, Kayla Smiley, who will be teaching students in grades one through three in the upcoming school year and states that she maintains a classroom library with “age-appropriate books across a diverse spectrum of subjects and concerns, including LGBTQ issues, such as biographies of Harvey Milk, and Elton John.”
The suit adds that Smiley “has no idea whether these books” qualify as instruction on human sexuality.