Late Tuesday night, the Goochland county school board voted to suspend and replace a controversial policy that potentially could have forced kids 14 years of age and older to defend their faith before the board if their family chose religious exemption from attending public school. Thank you to all of you who either contacted school board members or attended last night’s meeting.
After nearly four hours of public testimony in front of hundreds of concerned parents and families, several board members admitted that they had over stepped when they made a change in policy last year regarding religious exemption. Some, however, continued to defend what they called “a requirement to do something” to comply with state law. Regardless, the board voted to repeal and replace it with a policy more in line with state law. That decision will be finalized with another vote at a later meeting. In the meantime, the board voted to suspend implementation of the current policy.
Not surprisingly, much of the confusion that led to the controversial policy resulted from incorrect legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General. Apparently, once again, the Attorney General’s office has misinterpreted state law to attempt to advance a personal agenda. In addition, a biased report from a professor at the University of Virginia about religious exemption has given the education establishment a reason to attempt to undermine Virginia’s nearly 30 year old statute.
Testimony at last night’s meeting from the Home School Legal Defense Association and other home school groups made clear that it is the right of parents in Virginia to choose to religiously exempt their children from compulsory education laws and those parents are not responsible to the government to explain why. In fact, as we told the board last night, members would have to be experts in all the world religions to be able to decipher if a family or child has an understanding of or is motivated by faith.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court as late as last year in the Greece decision have made it clear that government officials have neither the right nor the expertise to parse religious words and beliefs.
We will be watching closely for legislation during this year’s General Assembly that would undermine the religious freedom and parental rights of parents to choose religious exemption and keep you monitored this issue.