The State of California authorizes the creation of tuition-free charter schools under the jurisdiction of local school districts. Some of these charter schools offer “independent study” programs that families may elect to use for their children as an alternative to traditional classroom-based instruction. Families receive an account with state funds they can use to purchase curricula, materials, extracurricular activities, and individual classes at other schools, including private schools. The parents select the curriculum and teach their children, while the charter school provides support and confirms attendance records.

Due to state laws, however, the charter schools do not allow parents to use their fund to purchase curricula, materials, or classes if they are religious—or even from a religious publisher. Additionally, some schools enforce policies rejecting credit for coursework that originates from a religious curriculum or in which the student demonstrates a religious perspective.

The plaintiffs in this case—parents John and Breanna Woolard, Hector and Diana Gonzales, and Carrie Dodson—are devout Christians who are raising school-age children and whose Christian faith is central to their identity and worldview. Instilling that faith in their children, including through their education, is of the highest importance to them. Each family enrolled their children in a charter school but has suffered adverse consequences. These schools have restricted parents’ use of funds to purchase curricula and other instructional materials on the basis of religion, and some refused to accept or award credit for student work samples that reflect a child’s religious perspective. The Dodson family was expelled from its charter school because they selected a religious curriculum.

The actions from the state derive from policies in California’s Blaine Amendment and statutory provisions enforcing it, which prohibit the public purchase of “sectarian” materials. However, the U.S. Department of Education has long recognized the constitutional principle that public schools cannot reject a student’s work just because that student speaks from a religious viewpoint. The Supreme Court has repeatedly noted that Blaine Amendments arose from anti-Catholic bigotry. The Supreme Court also made clear in Carson v. Makin that excluding families from educational benefits because of their religious choices is unconstitutional.

First Liberty Institute and King & Spalding LLP filed a federal lawsuit challenging this unconstitutional religious discrimination. The court has set a hearing regarding the case in April 2024.

News Release
For Immediate Release: 10.12.23
Contact: Peyton Luke, media@firstliberty.org 
Direct: 972-941-4453 

 

Parents Sue California Schools for Religious Discrimination 

School officials prohibit families enrolled in charter schools’ publicly funded homeschooling programs from purchasing or using religious curricula 

Sacramento, CA—First Liberty Institute and King & Spalding LLP, as pro bono counsel, filed a federal lawsuit challenging California school policies that discriminate against families who choose faith-based curricula in charter schools’ parent-directed homeschool programs.    

You can read the complaint here 

“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, Partner at King & Spalding. “Religious families are entitled to the same educational benefits as everyone else.” 

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. Our clients simply want to be able to choose curricula that fits their families’ needs without facing religious discrimination.” 

The State of California authorizes the creation of tuition-free charter schools under the jurisdiction of local school districts. Some of these charter schools offer “independent study” programs that families may elect to use for their children as an alternative to traditional classroom-based instruction. Families receive access to state funds they can use to purchase curriculum, materials, extracurricular activities, and individual classes at other schools, including private schools. The parents select the curriculum and teach their children, while the charter school provides support and confirms attendance records.  

Citing state laws, however, the charter schools refuse to allow parents to use those funds to purchase curricula, materials, or classes if they are religious. Additionally, the schools refuse to accept credit for coursework that originates from a religious curriculum or reflects a religious perspective.  

The plaintiffs in this case—parents John and Breanna Woolard, Hector and Diana Gonzales, and Carrie Dodson—are devout Christians who are raising school-age children and whose Christian faith is central to their identity and worldview.  Instilling that faith in their children, including through their education, is of the highest importance to them.  Each family enrolled their children in a charter school’s independent study program.  But each faced religious discrimination, including being denied the right to use high-quality curricula that comport with California state standards, simply because they reflect a faith-based worldview.  The Dodson family was even expelled from its charter school because the family chose a religious curriculum. 

### 

About First Liberty Institute  

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. 
To arrange an interview, contact Peyton Luke at media@firstliberty.org.

Social Facebook Social Instagram Twitter X Icon | First Liberty Institute Social Youtube Social Linkedin

Terms of UsePrivacy PolicySitemap • © 2024 Liberty Institute® is a trademark of First Liberty Institute