NH Supreme Court sidesteps critical religious liberty issue in homeschooler case

Court adds that its decision has no bearing on homeschooling in general
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a lower court order Wednesday that forced a homeschooled student into a government-run school against her mother’s wishes. The court made clear that it was not addressing larger religious liberty and homeschooling concerns and was basing its ruling only on the narrow and specific facts of the case. An Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney represented the mother, who objected to the lower court’s order.

“Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children. Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views. That’s precisely what the lower court admitted it was doing,” said John Anthony Simmons, attorney for the mother and one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

“The lower court held the Christian faith of this mother and daughter against them,” Simmons said. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court bypassed this issue and wrote this off as a ‘parent versus parent’ issue without recognizing the very real underlying threat to religious liberty.”

“Although we strongly disagree with the court’s decision for this family and do not believe the trial court should have considered religion as it did, we appreciate that the Supreme Court limited its decision to the facts of this case,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “This decision cannot be used as a battering-ram against religious liberty or homeschooling, and ADF will be vigilant to make sure that it’s not.”

The court heard oral argument in the case, In the Matter of Kurowski and Kurowski (Voydatch), on Jan. 6. Simmons argued that the burden of proof was on the father to prove harm in order to change the schooling arrangement. Because no harm was demonstrated and the child was acknowledged to be academically superior and socially interactive, even by the court, Simmons argued that the homeschooling arrangement should not have been changed.

In the original order issued in July 2009, Judge Lucinda V. Sadler of the Family Division of the Judicial Court for Belknap County in Laconia reasoned that the girl’s “vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view” and then ordered her to be enrolled in a government-run school instead of being home-schooled.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.