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Home-School Parents Sue For Religious Freedom

  • 2004 6 Aug
Home-School Parents Sue For Religious Freedom

(AgapePress) - A Christian family has sued a Pennsylvania school district, claiming the state's home education law violates their religious convictions.

Due to their belief that it is not the government's job to oversee the education of their seven children, Tom and Babette Hankin have been home schooling for a decade. Because of their strong religious convictions, they did not notify the government school system; therefore, they have been non-compliant with the state's home-school regulations for ten years.

In March 2004, after the local school district learned that the Hankins were home schooling, officials contacted the parents to inform them that their children's absence from public school was illegal. The parents responded with several letters to the district explaining that their religious beliefs prevented them from complying with the home education laws.

But then district officials sent the home schooling parents an ultimatum. The Hankins were told truancy charges would be filed against them if they did not comply with the state's compulsory attendance law in three days. So they filed a complaint against the Bristol Township School District in state court under the 2003 Religious Freedom Protection Act, claiming that forcing them to comply with the home education law, would violate their religious freedom.

Pennsylvania's home-schooling regulations are rigorous, requiring meticulous record-keeping and submission of notarized paperwork on the home schoolers' intended curriculum, a criminal background stipulation, each child's medical information, ongoing progress logs, and the end-of-year progress reports, which must be signed by a third party. Given so many "hoops" to jump through, many home-schooling parents feel the extensive requirements constitute a substantial burden and discriminate against those people who choose, out of religious conviction, to home school their children.

But the Hankins' attorney, Darren Jones with the Home School Legal Defense Association, says no animus toward home schooling families is involved in this case. "The school district is simply trying to do their job under the law," he says. "However, the Religious Freedom Protection Act does appear to give the state agencies, such as the school district, some leniency perhaps in working with families whose religious convictions are being burdened."

According to Jones, the Hankins believe allowing the government to monitor their children's education violates their religious beliefs. What his clients ultimately want to accomplish, he explains, is "what they've had for the past 10 years -- the right to home school their children as they believe God has commanded them to do, without the school district peering over their shoulder and requiring them to file a whole bunch of paperwork every year."

The school district has filed an answer to the Hankins' complaint, but at the present time no trial date has been set. Jones says Pennsylvania and New York are the two worst states in the country when it comes to imposing heavy regulations on home schoolers.

Who Owns the Child?
Meanwhile, a similar case is pending in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, where another home-schooling family is seeking less government restriction and more freedom for parents. In that case, Dr. Mark Newborn and Maryalice Newborn have been home schooling their children for eleven years. The Newborns complied with all the home schooling regulations up until 2002, when they wrote to the Franklin Regional School District to complain about the extensive requirements.

When the school district answered with the threat of a truancy charge, the Newborns submitted the required paperwork under protest and decided their best recourse was to file a lawsuit. Like the Hankins, they filed a complaint under Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom Protection Act.

The lawsuit challenged the state's reporting requirements, which the Newborns feel impose "substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification." In a report, Maryalice Newborn commented, "It really comes down to who owns the child. The parents are the stewards over the child, not the state."

Newborn also noted that, ironically, the state only requires religious schools to report attendance. She and her husband feel that, if they must submit to all this third-party scrutiny and paperwork, they would rather file their reports with a Christian school.


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