Loudoun Targets Virginia’s Religious Exemption
by Helaina Bock • December 4, 2018
“Don’t try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I ask you not to repeal the religious exemption,” said Paul Millhouse at a Loudoun County School Board meeting last Tuesday. The multitude of hands raised in silent applause after he finished speaking revealed the audience’s agreement with his statement.
Millhouse, who lives in Loudoun County, was one of over two dozen Virginia residents who came to the meeting to defend their right to homeschool under the state’s religious exemption to compulsory school attendance.
On November 13, Loudoun County Public Schools announced that they intend to ask the Virginia Legislature to alter the religious exemption, under which thousands of families currently homeschool.
The county board’s proposal seeks legislation that would require families to educate their children only through “an alternative public, private, parochial and/or approved home instruction setting.”
If the exemption were changed in this way, parents would no longer be permitted to opt out of the public school system on the basis of their religious convictions.
As Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff explained, “This action is very disturbing because it means that the school district wants new ways to control religious-exempt families.”
Woodruff had notified homeschool families about the resolution and encouraged them to attend the school board meeting.
The public response was overwhelming—at least two dozen people spoke, and even more came to support the speakers. So many people registered to comment that the school board cut the standard two-minute speaking time in half.
People rushed to make their points before the buzzer signaled the close of each person’s speaking time. The comments came from individuals of all different ages and backgrounds. Some were seasoned homeschooling parents, while others were homeschooled students. Many speakers said they homeschooled under the religious freedom exemption.
Speaking styles ranged from emotional to cool and composed. Some told personal stories, while others used statistics and history to craft their arguments.
More than a Choice
Yet a common thread woven through all the presentations was a firm commitment to preserve one of the fundamental rights upon which our nation was built: religious freedom. This public comment period served as a powerful reminder to the school board that, for many, homeschooling is more than just a matter of school choice; it is a matter of religious freedom.
Millhouse explained that, for him, homeschooling his children is a calling from God. As Christians, he and his wife believe that “the Lord holds us accountable for what and how we teach our children.”
Removing the religious exemption would allow the state to interfere with religious-exempt families’ educational choices. The school board justified their proposal by alleging that they only want to make sure that children are getting a satisfactory education.
First of all, Scott Woodruff pointed out, no empirical evidence suggests that homeschooled children are currently lacking a satisfactory education. Secondly, under the school board’s proposal the district—not the parent—would become responsible for determining what a “satisfactory education” looks like.
Citizens throughout Loudon County recognized this threat and refused to watch in silence as the school board discussed compromising their rights. Although we have yet to find out what the board will decide, the message of individuals who spoke out at the school board meeting undoubtedly will impact the school board’s decision-making process. And the public comments serve as a reminder to us all that when we stand up for the right to homeschool, we are also standing up for religious freedom.
As Woodruff said, “Parents must be empowered to educate their children according to their faith.”