A War On Christian Homeschooling? (You Wish.)
The case of Amanda Kurowski, a New Hampshire 10-year-old whom the courts have ordered out of home-schooling and into her local public schools, is making serious waves. Obviously, some are quick to call it religion-demonizing-by-evil-seculars. But is it?
Amanda is educated by her mother, who has primary custody. When her father suggested that her mother's "rigid" Christian curriculum was harming his daughter, the courts intervened, agreed with the dad, and ordered that the child begin 5th grade at the local school. After reviewing the findings of the Guardian ad Litem, Family Court Justice Lucinda V. Sandler conceded that while "the evidence support a finding that Amanda is generally likeable and well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising, and intellectually at or superior to grade level," the court was troubled by her "rigidity on faith" and felt that her "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs ... suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view." (You can read the decision here.) As a result, Sandler concluded that Amanda "would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior and cooperation in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs."
Not shockingly, many Christian groups are up-in-arms at what they see as a straightforward, unconstitutional attack on their faith, and court-fearin' Conservatives haven't been far behind. If you do a search on the case, probably 90% of coverage is on Christian sites and blogs, which reference the specter of the schools' secular war on religion and the unfair witch-hunt on a decent Christian mother. Says Douglas Napier, senior ADF counsel, to the Washington Times, "Does anybody seriously believe a public school will broaden this girl's views on comparative religious thought? The schools are the number-one censors of religious thought." The mom's lawyers, of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal outfit, have filed a motion asking the court to reconsider. Says her lawyer, "The court has intruded on the child's most fundamental liberties and should reconsider this unconstitutional encroachment." As in the case of Rifqa Bary, it's been spun as a case of old-fashioned Christian martyrdom.
And as in the case of Bary, it's hard to regard the case objectively anymore, because it's quickly been shanghai'd by ideology-speak and . But the excellent New Hampshire Family Law Blog laid it out in a highly convincing fashion. In essence, they ask: Is this about parental rights - or constitutional law? New Hampshire state law mandates the judge must find some evidence of harm to a child before taking her out of home-schooling. The court awarded her mom custody, she's presumably meeting the state education standards, and by the judge's admission, the child is socialized (she takes a number of supplementary classes, as well as sports and dance) and educated. It's dismaying to hear a child parrot back beliefs of any kind, but can we legally change that? Surely what Amanda is learning is no different from what she'd be taught at a Christian private school, after all. If she is, say, learning exclusively creationism to the exclusion of Evolution, yes, that's certainly a legal issue - but is that the case? And while I'm sure I'd find plenty of Amanda's views questionable - the certainty of the home-schooled Christian kids in Jesus Camp springs to mind - you can't punish parents for stupid views, surely? This would undermine a large percentage of home-schooling parents, many of whom teach a similar Christian curriculum.
But from the father's perspective, I can imagine the dismay at seeing a child indoctrinated with rigid views that aren't your own - and if it's a legal question of both parents needing to approve a religious curriculum, then, yes, obviously he needs a say. Conceding that both parents should have a say is not a question of Secular Schools Who Hate Christianity Witch-Hunting. And while it's a bit surreal to see the Christian advocates righteously invoking the rights of single mothers ("A lot of single moms are concerned about this case because their ex-husbands could use the home-schooling issue to get back at them as has happened in this case," says one) it doesn't seem like, at the end of the day, anyone can escape from the basic issue that both parents have a say.