NH Court Ruling: Homeschooler forced into public school

Georgene Rice interviews Joseph Infranco with the Alliance Defense Fund to discuss greater implications of a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court Ruling that forced a home school student into a government run school against her mother’s wishes. The court made clear it was not addressing larger religious liberty or home school issues, but rather on the narrow facts of the case.

Georgene: First, please briefly refresh us on the details of the case.

Joseph: The case arose from a dispute of a divorced mother and father who did not agree on how their 10-yr-old daughter should be taught. The mother was the main, custodial parent. She is a Christian and was homeschooling the girl and raising her in a strong Christian atmosphere. The daughter was excelling academically and socially. The father wanted her to be exposed to more socialization in the public school; however, the courts went way past socialization and into religious freedom. Here’s one quote to give you a flavor for it. The trial judge said that “Amanda’s vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to the counselor would strongly suggest that since she spends the majority of her time with her mother she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider adopting any other religious point of view”.

Georgene: By the Supreme Court sidestepping this part of the lower court’s ruling does that affirm the lower court’s ruling and suggest that this is an appropriate or legal way to approach the subject? Where does the Supreme Court’s ruling leave that most thorny part of the trial court’s decision?

Joseph: In its ruling, the trial court judge said this had nothing to do with religion or homeschooling and the Supreme Court gave him the benefit of the doubt. It was good that we were in the case. Our attorney raised the right questions, putting the lower court decision on a different footing. The Supreme Court could say it had nothing to do with those religious issues. Subsequently, the good news is that the Supreme Court decision strongly established that parents’ have a fundamental right to make educational choices, such as homeschooling, for their children. The court emphasized that courts can settle disputes, but they cannot order a child into a government run school on the basis of religious considerations. The Supreme Court at least got these important issues right. But, the underlying case is still very disturbing.

Georgene: Essentially, what the lower court said was, because this little girl had strong convictions of her faith, she clearly has not been adequately socialized.

Joseph: Parents are supposed to inculcate values. In another context, imagine the judge saying to a mother who is raising a daughter vegetarian or with anti-war leanings, that her child needs to hear more from military types or the joys of meat-eating? I don’t think the trial court appreciated the sensitivity of that issue. So, I would say, even thought the Supreme Court affirmed the issue, it affirmed it on such narrow and fact-specific grounds that there is no harm to come from it. But, needless to say, we are going to watch other courts. If this issue comes up in another context we may face it again.

Georgene: Even though there may not be harm for future cases, the mother would certainly challenge that and feel it is harmful because her daughter is now being forced to attend a public school.

Joseph: What complicates this issue is that you have a mother and father who both love their child but have different points of view on how this child should be raised. The Supreme Court ruled from the view that this was a parent vs. parent dispute rather than a religious liberty issue. The courts needed to break the tie, but not on the basis of someone’s religious views.

Georgene: So, as the case now stands, this little girl will go to public school, but remain in the care of her mother who can influence her religious views, but in the context of a public education.

Joseph: That’s right, and we know many home school parents are concerned about this. So, they can read more about this case and see a copy of the court’s decision on our website, www.telladf.org and link into news and case updates on marriage and the family. But, we’d like to assure them that there is nothing in the decision of this case that harms homeschooling in any way whatsoever.

Georgene: Thank you for explaining that and for providing the legal counsel in this case.

Joseph: We are determined that there will never be a case where legal help is not provided. We have grown to about 1,900 attorneys and are able to provide pro-bono assistance because we are a ministry and a nonprofit. When we launched in 1994, we were founded by Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Bill Bright, Dr. D. James Kennedy and others who were concerned that too many cases were lost because legal support didn’t show up.

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