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August 6, 2003

Pennsylvania - Homeschoolers' Religious Freedom Case Can Proceed

Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas Judge William J. Ober ruled on August 6, 2004 that a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's homeschool law may proceed.

Dr. Mark and Maryalice Newborn challenged the law under Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom Protection Act and the U.S. Constitution.

The defendant, Franklin Regional School District, had moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Newborns had experienced insufficient harm to warrant judicial relief. Judge Ober categorically rejected all of the district's arguments.

The Newborns are represented by Home School Legal Defense Association Chairman and General Counsel Mike Farris, who argued the case on July 30, 2004. "Religious homeschoolers are over-burdened in Pennsylvania," said Farris. "Today's ruling is a significant first step toward relieving that burden."

Pennsylvania's homeschool law is one of the most restrictive in the nation. Homeschool families must provide detailed curriculum, submit to regular testing and have the homeschool program reviewed annually by certified teachers and by the district superintendent.

The Newborns are a family of seven who have been homeschooling for 11 years due to their sincere religious conviction that they, not the state, are responsible before God for their children's education.

According to the recently enacted Religious Freedom Protection Act, state officials are required to remedy substantial burdens imposed on a person's religious faith by any state statute. If the officials refuse to relieve the burden, the RFPA provides that the Courts of Common Pleas may order them to do so. The RFPA defines "substantial burden" as any law that "compels conduct or expression that violates a specific tenet of a person's religious faith."

"Dr. and Mrs. Newborns' religious convictions are shared by thousands of religiously-motivated homeschoolers in Pennsylvania and across the country," said Farris.

The school district must now file a response to the Newborns' complaint.

 Other Resources

Click here for a summary of the Newborn case.

Combs, et al, v. Homer-Center School District, et al