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February 24, 2003

Chris Klicka Letter on Pennsylvania RFA

Dear HSLDA Pennsylvania Member:

Recently you inquired concerning the enactment of Senate Bill 1421 in Pennsylvania. This " Religious Freedom Act " provides a significant protection for families with strong religious convictions in any area, including homeschooling. The Religious Freedom Act (RFA) will even the playing field when families are faced with regulations that violate their religious convictions.

The Religious Freedom Act allows parents to bring a claim in any Commonwealth Court if their religious beliefs are being violated by a government regulation. The person bringing the action must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that their free exercise of religion has been burdened or likely will be burdened. The court may then award that person declaratory or injunctive relief as is appropriate. However, no monetary damages can be awarded for violation of this act, unless the court finds that the actions of the agency were "dilatory, obdurate, or vexatious."

The individual may also use the Religious Freedom Act as a defense if they are being charged with truancy or some other violation of the law because of their religious convictions.

The Religious Freedom Act will especially be helpful to carve out exemptions for families from certain government regulations. It will likely not be precedent setting in effecting the whole state; it will be applied on a case-by-case basis, based on the individual's religious convictions.

The hardest aspect to prove is that a family is being "substantially burdened" by the regulation. Therefore if the family is objecting to simple notification of their homeschool, a court is likely not to find that a "substantial burden." However, if the family is being required to be a "certified teacher," would be more likely for a court to find a "substantial burden" because a family could not continue to homeschool as God called them if they were not certified.

As you can imagine, anything in between these two examples could be challenged under the RFA. The question is what aspects of the homeschool law will a court find to substantially burden any particular individual's religious convictions.

If you have further questions on whether you want to utilize the Religious Freedom Act, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Christopher J. Klicka