Children as the Tools of the State: Educational Bait-and-Switch

by Hans Bader on March 6, 2008 · 16 comments

When parents object to political indoctrination and sexually intrusive questions aimed at their children by public school officials, the courts insist that they have no right to object because they supposedly “voluntarily” sent their kids to the public schools, and parents’ constitutional rights to direct the upbringing of their children supposedly stop at the “threshold of the school door,” according to a California case called Fields v. Palmdale School District.

But when parents respond to such rulings by exercising their choice not to send their kids to a public school, but rather home-school them, the courts then switch arguments to claim that there really is no such choice, claiming that the State can prevent anyone who lacks State-approved teaching “credentials” from teaching children, and that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” according to the California Court of Appeal’s disturbing ruling in another case, In re Rachel L. (2008).

Hans Bader March 6, 2008 at 11:49 am

The California Court of Appeal's decision was also deeply skeptical of religious-freedom claims generally, in a way at odds with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that courts should not deny people religious exemptions to even laws of paramount national importance, like draft laws, if an individual claimant has a "sincere" religious objection, even if many other people raise insincere pretextual objections. (United States v. Seeger (1965)).

And the Supreme Court allowed an entire religion — the Amish — to obtain a constitutionally-based religious exemption to compulsory schooling laws for children beyond the eighth grade level. (Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)).

Yet here, the Court of Appeal summarily dismissed any religious-freedom objection to compulsory school attendance by home schoolers by claiming that such an objection is "too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his child."

It is absurd to rule out religious exemptions to government schooling as being "too easily asserted," even while permitting such exemptions to military service, given that self-interest is likely to produce a much greater number of fabricated religious objections to military service in a time of war, and given that national defense is much more of a core government function than the public schools are, since national defense is potentially tied to the very survival of a country (whereas education is not a government monopoly).

This is particularly true since this case involves not only religious freedom, but also parental rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment under Supreme Court rulings like Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), which held that parents could send their children to private schools contrary to state laws requiring public school attendance, and Santosky v. Kramer (1982).

If objections really are commonly asserted to public schooling in California (there are apparently 166,000 home-schoolers there), maybe that is a reflection on the poor quality of the state's schools, which produce worse educational outcomes for a higher cost than schools in other states in the region, like Washington State.

Even if that is the case, that is no excuse, under Supreme Court precedent, to summarily dismiss religious objections that are "sincerely" motivated by religious belief, much less to ignore or downplay parental rights.

The California Court of Appeal mentioned the California state constitution and education code (which mandate secular education) as if that somehow weighed against the parents' desire to homeschool their children.

But that is no excuse for brushing aside religious-freedom claims. State constitutional provisions cannot trump federal constitutional rights (such as the right to freedom of religion and parental rights). See Garnett v. Renton School District, 987 F.2d 641, 646 (9th Cir. 1993)(right of religious group to equal treatment by school under federal Equal Access Act override discriminatory requirements of Washington State's establishment clause; "state[s] cannot abridge rights granted by federal law. . .State law must therefore yield").

Jim Taylor March 6, 2008 at 12:00 pm

One more reason for folks from California to move to Utah. Perhaps that's part of the reason home builders are so busy around here when they are idle elsewhere.

Frank Davis March 6, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Is this the 4th Circuit that ruled? They are the most overturned court in the country, and apparently quite proud of it. Won't stand.

Josh March 6, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Frank: I think it was a state appellate court, not the federal court you are thinking of.

Hans Bader March 7, 2008 at 6:01 am

In response to Frank Davis's question, the home-schooling decision (In re Rachel L.) was by a state court, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, whose decisions can theoretically be reviewed by the California Supreme Court.

He may have been thinking about the earlier court ruling in Fields v. Palmdale School District, which was by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the federal circuit that the Supreme Court reverses more frequently than any other.

Both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court are extremely busy courts that don't hear appeals of most decisions by lower courts beneath them, even from controversial courts like the 9th Circuit (even if those decisions are admitted years later to have been based on an erroneous view of the law). They turn away most (more than 98 percent of) appeals without comment, without addressing their merits. A party seeking review of a court of appeal decision must seek permission to have the case heard by the state supreme court through a petition for review. Then, if the state supreme court refuses to hear the case, the party can try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case by filing a petition for certiorari.

(The California Supreme Court sometimes depublishes a state court of appeal decision it views as containing bad reasoning and overreaching, thus depriving it of precedential effect, even if the California Supreme Court itself is not sure of how to decide the case. That would be appropriate here, even if the state supreme court were to decide not to hear the case despite its manifest importance, since the court of appeal in this case made peculiar statements about the law even beyond its controversial holding).

NH March 7, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Screw California! Come to live in NH. Anything goes. Tell the court to go stick it where the sun don't shine and keep your kids out of their commie school system.

Equestrian Homes October 24, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Parents have a constitutional right to home school their children as long as they meet state requirements. For California to deny parents this right is wrong.

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