“…we will leave public schools in shreds….”

This week we are looking at Circuit Court decisions involving a clash between the right of parents to direct their child’s upbringing, and the public school’s need to serve a wide diversity of students.  Here is a case from the 7th Circuit.

What Happened? Parents of students in a K-5 school objected to the Impressions Reading Series which had been used for supplemental reading for several years.  The parents claimed that these books fostered certain religious beliefs, indoctrinating children in beliefs that were “directly opposed to their Christian beliefs by teaching tricks, despair, deceit, parental disrespect and by denigrating Christian symbols and holidays.”  The suit alleged that the parents’ rights to the free exercise of religion were infringed.

What Did the Court Do?  The court held that the use of reading materials did not infringe on the free exercise of religion. The court noted that the reading series:

is used to build and enhance students’ reading skills and develop their senses of imagination and creativity. These skills are fundamental to children of this age, and it is critical that the directors select the best tools available to them to teach these skills. Having done this, they have properly performed the government’s function of providing quality public school education. 

What Can We Learn?  In 1994, you could count on judges to respect the work that public school educators do.  The court cited a concurring opinion in a Supreme Court case from 1948:

If we are to eliminate everything that is objectionable to any [religious group] or inconsistent with any of their doctrines, we will leave public schools in shreds.  Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result from subjecting it to constant law suits.  McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 235 (1948), Jackson, J., concurring.

Today there are some elected officials and judges who would happily “leave public schools in shreds.”  They need to be reminded of cases like this one, and the others we are reviewing this week. 

It’s Fleischfresser v. Directors of School District 200, decided by the 7th Circuit on February 2, 1994. It’s cited at 15 F.3d 680. 


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow: the 10th Circuit on parental rights….