Parents Sue California Schools for Religious Discrimination

Parents Sue California Schools for Religious Discrimination

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year for religious education in public schools, First Liberty Institute has filed a discrimination lawsuit against two California charter schools for banning faith-based curricula.

According to the lawsuit, a group of five parents enrolled their children in tuition-free charter schools—Blue Ridge Academy in Southern California and Visions of Education in Northern California—that facilitate “independent study” curated by parents in a homeschooling environment.

The schools promote their commitment to “individualized and inclusive learning” through these programs, but with one “glaring exception”—faith-based learning material, the lawsuit states. The Woolard, Gonzales and Dodson families, according to the suit, wanted to use high-quality curricula that comported with state standards and that also reflected a faith-based worldview, but were denied. One family was even expelled. 

“Our clients simply want to be able to choose curricula that fits their families’ needs without facing religious discrimination,” Justin Butterfield, deputy general counsel for First Liberty, said. “These families love their charter schools and the opportunities those schools provide for families to educate their children in a way that fits the families’ needs.” 

But school officials have cited a state law that prohibits the teaching of “sectarian and denominational doctrine” to deny academic credit and reject sample work from the students from any faith-based curricula or any that reflect religious perspectives. 

Lawyers for the students’ families contend that religious discrimination is unconstitutional under federal law. “As the Supreme Court made clear last year in Carson v. Makin, when the government provides a benefit, like parent-directed educational funding, it cannot exclude families just because they choose to use that benefit for a religious education,” said Ethan Davis, a partner at King & Spalding, who is also leading the litigation. 

Attorneys from the Institute for Justice and First Liberty represented the Maine parents in the Supreme Court case, Dave and Amy Carson and Angela and Troy Nelson. They argued that other high court rulings have affirmed the right to include religious options in school choice programs, and also that states cannot exclude such choices in the name of preventing “religious uses” of program funds.

Although the U.S. District Court of Maine and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the parents, the Supreme Court disagreed in its June 21, 2022 ruling.

“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the [Constitution’s] free exercise clause,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the court’s 6-3 opinion. “Maine’s tuition assistance program … ‘effectively penalizes the free exercise’ of religion.”

The daughters of both the Carsons and the Nelsons have graduated from high school, though the Nelsons still have a son in school. The families pursued litigation knowing the case might not be decided in time to help their own situations, but they wanted to help other families who would encounter the same issue in the future. Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty, responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year by stating: “We are thrilled that the Court affirmed once again that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in this country. Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government.”

Photo: Jessica Lewis/Unsplash

Subscribe to Decision Email Devotional

Subscribe to Decision Email Devotional

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

About Us     Contact Us     Privacy
©2024 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. BGEA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.