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Federal judge declines to block new Indiana law barring teaching of sex in grades K-3

The Indiana Statehouse. (IIB Photo/Alex Brown)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge has declined to block the enforcement of a new state law barring the teaching of human sexuality to students from pre-K through the third grade.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Hanlon ruled late Friday that claims by Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Kayla Smiley that the law infringes on her First Amendment free speech rights and is too vague to be enforced were insufficient to justify a preliminary injunction blocking the law.

Hanlon said teachers do not have unlimited free speech rights in the classroom. Instead, as government employees, their speech is limited to subjects and messages approved by the Legislature, he wrote.

“Ms. Smiley cites no authority establishing that an elementary school teacher has the right to speak in her capacity as a private citizen when expressing an educational message to her students,” Hanlon wrote in his 15-page ruling. “Without a substantial effect on protected speech, Ms. Smiley is unlikely to succeed on her claim that (the law) — on its face — violates the First Amendment.”

Hanlon also ruled that while the law doesn’t define “human sexuality” or related terms, there is a sufficient core of understandable meaning to those phrases that prevents him from striking down the statute for being too vague.

Indiana schools typically don’t provide any kind of sex education until at least fifth grade except for state-mandated programs focused on preventing child abuse.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in June.

Republican lawmakers approved the law this year during a session that targeted LGBTQ+ people in the state. It took effect July 1 after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law in May.